In my years of watching all genres of movies, none has ever struck me like this one. It's the most intense and thrilling flick that doesn't involve a moment's violence. The cast is perfect: Al Pacino as the confident, slick Ricky Roma; Jack Lemmon as the down-on-his-luck Shelley "The Machine" Levene; Ed Harris as the hot-headed yet shrewd Dave Moss; Alan Arkin as the ever-insecure George Aronow; Kevin Spacey as Mitch & Murray's "Company Man" Jon Williamson; and Alec Baldwin as Mr. Limpkin, the perfect symbol of upper-management arrogance and cruelty. Never has a movie gone so far with basically just a half-dozen people on screen at any one time. (A then unknown Jonathan Pryce has a supporting role as James Link, one of Roma's clients/victims, but he's vastly overshadowed in this movie.)
The storyline is one of an ever-frustrating vicious circle: real estate salesmen in a struggling economy are trying to get on a hot streak again. Middle management of Mitch & Murray is no help, only promising that "new leads" will be introduced. In walks Limpkin, there to supposedly give them a pep talk. Instead it's an insult-fest: Shelley goes over to get a cup of coffee and is immedeately chastised: "Coffee is for closers only!" Limpkin further attacks Levene, snidely remarking, "You call yourself a salesman, you son of a b****?" One after another, these salesmen are ripped apart as being weak and incompetent. The company sales competition is then reviewed....first prize, a Cadillac El Dorado; second prize, a set of steak knives; third prize? You're fired! Then, just as quickly as the new Glengarry leads are introduced, Limpkin reveals that they're not for "losers" like them: "To give them to you would be like throwing them away. They're for closers." Baldwin's performance is brilliant here. His combination of intensity and cool cockiness has the effect of a boxer's punch: brief but stinging. And it helps set the tone for the movie's story of how the other salesmen react to his not-so-pleasant visit.
Meanwhile, the one salesman on a hot streak, Ricky Roma, shows why as he casually talks a random man from the local restaurant (Pryce) about life, loves, and, eventually real estate. His approach to closing is more suddle: get to know the person, buy them plenty to drink, pretend to care and empathize with them, all the while sizing them up for the deal. At the same time, Moss concocts a plan to break into Mitch & Murray's and steal the new leads...with the help of a co-conspirator. Dave needs a second person to do the dirty work, since he's been so vocal in his criticsm of M & M's handling of sales, so he works George over mentally to go along and illegally swipe the leads and sell them to a rival real estate agency. Shelley, after failing to convince Williamson to loan him a couple of new leads, is out trying to close the old-fashioned way: going door-to-door. In one scene, probably the most uncomfortable in the whole film, Levene does his best to smooth-talk a young husband to buy land, using all sorts of jargon to make the deal look and sound sweet, when both he and the young man know that no deal will be made. In a moment, it crystalizes what hard-luck the salesmen (except Roma) are going through.
The next morning, the robbery of the leads has indeed taken place, and personal situations change: the files for Roma's previous closings are also missing, along with every phone in the office. Each salesman is being interrogated by police, to seemingly no avail of finding answers. Shelley then enters, excited over a sale he's finally made. The experience is almost like a conquest: he's more confident,cheerful, and, like Roma, bust Williamson's butt for his lack of sales experience, among other things. From here I won't give much more away: through a series of events, each salesman gains and loses something. All I'll say is that George probably ended up with the steak knives!
I know I went into long detail, but I love this movie!! Writer/Screenplay David Mamet obviously worked in this field at one point; there is much attention to detail, between the sales-improving corporate-speak of "A.B.C." and "A.I.D.A", to the indignant sign above Williamson's office which reads "SALESMEN ARE BORN NOT MADE", I'm willing to bet that this story had to come from some real-life experience. I also thought the movie was actually enhanced by the exclusion of two things: scenes of the robbery itself, and when Shelley "closes" the deal with the Nyhborgs (I probably spelled that wrong, but so what?) This is a movie that is relevant in any era or any business; it shows the downfall of what was once considered an eternally existent profession. Substitute "real estate" with "car" or "insurance" salesmen and it would still have the same effect. Funny, brutal, with a twist of irony at the end, this is a movie I could watch every day and never be sick of.