CRIME CULTURE: It’s the 1992 film set in the sleazy real estate world of New York where fraudster Donald Trump used to reign as king before becoming the most powerful man in the United States. Gary Johnston on why this business crime classic featuring an all-star cast led by the incomparable Al Pacino is even more relevant today.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Except, when they get worse.
Glengarry Glen Ross, James Foley’s 1992 film of the David Mamet Broadway play, tells the tale of a group of desperate salesmen willing to lie, cheat, deceive, and steal, without even a hint of conscience.
It’s a crime film, but only when here, in the palpably seedy world of New York real estate, the ‘crime’ is someone burgling the office and helping himself to a list of hot sales ‘leads’, ripe for exploiting.
The lying, the cheating, exploiting and all the rest? That’s fine. It’s just business.
As the reptilian, played by Alex Baldwin in a magnificent and unforgettable cameo, brought into the office to berate the sales force by way of motivation says:
‘A-B-C. A-Always, B-Be, C-Closing. Always be closing. Always be closing! A-I- D-A. Attention, Interest, Decision, Action. Attention — do I have your attention? Interest — are you interested? I know you are, ’cause it’s fuck or walk. You close, or you hit the bricks!”
There are three sales prizes on offer, but the second prize is a joke and the third, a humiliation.
Oh, have I got your attention now? Good. ‘Cause we’re adding a little something to this month’s sales contest. As you all know, first prize is a Cadillac Eldorado. Anybody wanna see second prize? Second prize’s a set of steak knives. Third prize is you’re fired.
None of the characters – with one possible exception and he soon has that browbeaten out of him – have a shred of what even the most confirmed nihilist would consider to be moral principles; in many ways, that’s the point, life is meaningless so take what you can keep, no matter who you hurt.
It’s all – it’s only – about you. It’s just business, what men do.
From Ricky Roma’s (Pacino) street lyricism to Shelley ‘The Machine’ Levine’s (the incomparable Jack Lemon) belligerent, but ultimately self pitying and despairing capitulation, Glengarry Glen Ross is a film about failure, both corporate and personal.
It’s no surprise Donald Trump made his dough amidst this superficial world of deception, that’s what he’s good at. Sure, he’s nowhere near as poetic as the mercurial Roma – the speech he makes to convince a potential buyer (Jonathan Pryce) that the ‘opportunity’ he’s about to offer is based on male bonding and not male bullshit, is one of the great monologues in cinema – but the message is the same.
Tell people what they want to hear. Convince them, use all your skills to show that you’re sincere. Because ‘sincerity’ is the key.
Once you can fake sincerity, you’ve got it made.
Clearly based on the original stage play this movie has minimal production values but once you get over that, you can only wallow in forceful acting by some of Hollywood’s biggest name’s, showing what they can do with dialogue that’s witty, dynamic, elegiac and eminently quotable.
‘I made $970,000 last year. How much you make? You see, pal, that’s who I am, and you’re nothing. Nice guy? I don’t give a shit. Good father? Fuck you! Go home and play with your kids. You wanna work here? Close! You think this is abuse? You think this is abuse, you cocksucker? You can’t take this, how can take the abuse you get on a sit?! You don’t like it, leave.’
It’s corporate bullying, forcing people to suck it up or walk. Inculcating in them the concept that the only thing that matters is the bottom line. Profit.
Sound familiar? Criminal, but the only ‘crime’ is getting caught. And even then, what’s the worst that can happen? An investigation. Here, in Australia, a Royal Commission, the most recent of which has seen all of our major banks exposed as shameless, unethical racketeers, though no one has gone to jail, or even lost their job. Business as usual. Play on. After all, most of the bank’s conduct was ‘within the law’, not surprising since it people like them who make the law.
Lawyers. Bankers. Businessmen. Media barons. A Media Baron.
Donald Trump was considered a good bet to be President because he was a ‘good businessman’. Ditto, Malcolm Turnbull. In other words, a liar, a cheat and a duplicitous fraud.
CRIME CULTURE: Nightcrawler
The hapless salesmen in Glengarry Glen Ross are the victims as well as the perpetrators of immorality. They’re downcast, grasping, needy and ultimately buyable. It’s the business that’s the real villain, is Mamet’s message. The system.
But every system, needs a front man.
With Scott Morrison, Australia has finally hit peak puppet. A man who stands for nothing and looks like he’s being worked from behind, because he is. Morrison is an irrelevance, simply the latest marionette on a string, doing someone else’s dirty work. Working, controlling the system to their – and only their – advantage.
As Dave the office manager (Kevin Spacey, now disgraced as a paedophile but still brilliant in this film) says:
“When you’re sitting on top of the world. Sitting on top of the world, everything’s fuckin’ peach fuzz.”
Glengarry Glen Ross, never more relevant, never more terrifying.