Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)
An examination of the machinations behind the scenes at a real estate office.
The real story behind the world of sales. This is a realistic portrayal of what it is to try making a life in high pressure sales with all its highs and lows; promises of fortunes and deliveries of dross. Red-leads and dead-leads are to blame for life's outcomes. Living with "Objection, Rebuttal, Close".
The staff at the Brooklyn office of Premiere Properties is convened by Blake, sent by the bigwigs Murray and Mitch from the downtown head office. Blake's mentality is cutthroat, he implementing a month long contest among the sales staff, with the highest seller by dollar winning a Cadillac Eldorado, the lowest seller who will be fired. Most of the sales staff are incensed as they feel their fate is largely in the hands of the office manager, John Williamson, who hands out the leads - two per day - at his discretion, many of those leads which the salesmen know are useless. In turn, John will only hand out the coveted Glengarry leads to those that sell. What the salesmen without exception also have against John is that he has never been a salesman - John who probably got his job through some sort of nepotism - and has no idea what it takes to be an effective salesman especially in their business. Ricky Roma is the lead salesman thus far this month, which he has been for quite some time, he who seems well on his way to that Cadillac as he already has his next potential target cum client, James Lingk, on the hook. On the other end of the spectrum is aging Shelley Levene, who once long ago was the top seller, but who seems to have lost his touch largely in his desperation. That desperation is ratcheted up a notch with the contest, Shelley who due to personal circumstances can't afford to lose his job. He believes the best way not to lose his job is to gain some sort of favor with John for better leads. George Aaronow and Dave Moss, two other salesmen near the bottom of sales, discuss other possible measures for themselves not to lose the contest, their discussed tactics which are a bit more illegal. Regardless, Dave tries to protect his own butt at George's expense. By the next morning, the fortunes of all those at the Brooklyn office takes a major turn, but not all those changes may be what they appear on the surface.
Times are tough in a Chicago real-estate office; the salesmen (Shelley Levene, Ricky Roma, Dave Moss, and George Aaronow) are given a strong incentive by Blake to succeed in a sales contest. The prizes? First prize is a Cadillac El Dorado, second prize is a set of steak knives, third prize is the sack! There is no room for losers in this dramatically masculine world; only "closers" will get the good sales leads. There is a lot of pressure to succeed, so a robbery is committed which has unforeseen consequences for all the characters.
- ACT I
The movie begins on a rainy night in a Chinese restaurant somewhere in Queens, New York City with Shelley Levene (Jack Lemmon), a veteran real estate salesman, attempting to contact a doctor for news about his daughter, who is in a hospital with a chronic illness. In the phone booth next to him is Dave Moss (Ed Harris) attempting to sell properties in Rio Rancho Estates. They both go into the men's room and start complaining about the type of potential customers, or leads, they have been getting from their sales company. They exit the bathroom and Ricky Roma (Al Pacino) is successfully selling real estate to a man at the bar.
When they return to their office, Premiere Properties, a representative... a hot-tempered, arrogant businessman called Blake (Alec Baldwin) sent by the owners of the company they work for, Mitch and Murray, is there. He cruelly and verbally berates them over their poor sales. He reminds them of a contest taking place in the office in which the best-selling salesman gets a Cadillac. The second-best salesman gets a set of worthless steak knives. Blake announces a twist to the contest: the worst performing salesman is fired. The salesmen themselves blame their lack of sales on the poor quality of the leads they have gotten. Blake then tells them that he has some "premium" leads for sales in a new development, the Glengarry Leads. These are buyers who are both likely to buy and able to afford the land they are selling, so getting these leads is incredibly important to all the salesmen. Blake tells them that the leads will go to the best performing salesmen, the first likely being Roma, who has been leading the office in sales on the big board and is in the lead for the new Cadillac. After Blake leaves, the office manager, Williamson (Kevin Spacey), hands out old leads to his team. The leads are the very type that the men have been complaining about; old names who have already turned them down for sales in the past.
Levene is so distraught with the situation that he confronts Williamson about providing him with the better leads. He tells Williamson that his daughter is in a hospital with a medical condition and is dependent on him because she has no health insurance. Levene also has no health insurance either and fears loosing his job if he cannot generate any sales. Levene begs Williamson to give him some of the Glengarry leads. Williamson refuses, so Levene tries pleading with him, then threatening him, and finally offering to bribe him. Williamson responds to the bride offer by taking advantage of Levene's vulnerable situation by offering to sell him the better leads at 50 dollars a piece as well as a cut of 20% of all his profits. Levene is unable to afford the terms and is stuck attempting to sell his second-rate leads. Levene visits Larry Spannel (Bruce Altman) to try to close a deal, but is unsuccessful.
Dave Moss and co-worker, George Aaronow (Alan Arkin), are going door-to-door and being confronted with "deadbeat" leads. During a break, they go to a local diner across town and start talking about the unethical behavior of their employer, Williamson, and about their mean and ungrateful rep, Blake, over their sales work. Moss proposes that they strike back at Mitch and Murray by stealing all the Glengarry leads and sell them to Jerry Graff, a competing real estate agency, for $7,500. Moss's plan would require Aaronow to break into the office at around midnight, stage a burglary, and steal all the prime leads. Aaronow wants no part of the plan, but Moss tries to coerce him, saying that Aaronow is already an accomplice simply because he knows about the proposed robbery. Aaronow continues to decline the shady deal.
Meanwhile, Ricky Roma is selling real estate to a meek, middle-aged man named James Lingk (Jonathon Pryce) back at the Chinese restaurant bar by promising financial success in investing. In contrast to Shelley Levene's weasel-like, fast-talking, con-artist manner, Roma does not broach the subject of a real estate deal until he has completely won Lingk over with his speech. Framing it as being "an opportunity" rather than a purchase, Roma plays upon Lingk's feelings of complacency and insecurity.
The next day, Roma comes into work only to find that the office has indeed been burglarized and the Glengarry leads have been stolen (Note: the break-in and robbery is never shown on camera). Williamson and the police question each of the salesmen in private. It would appear that Aaronow and Moss have done it due to their nervous attitudes. As a police inspector interviews each of them one by one in Mr. Williamson's office, Roma is especially distraught because he was the only one whose successful sales record entitled him to the Cadillac and the Glengarry leads. Everyone is in a terrible mood except for Levene who arrives and reveals that he managed to sell $82,000 in property that very morning. He explains his success story to Roma who listens with great respect and happiness for his co-worker. The negative tone in the office overshadows Levene's great sell. After his interrogation, Moss leaves in disgust, only after having one explosive last encounter with Roma. Levene turns to Williamson and demands some of the Glengarry leads, arrogantly mocking and berating Williamson.
During the cycle of interrogations first with Moss, then with Aaronow, and then to Levene, Lingk arrives at the office to tell Roma that his wife has told him to cancel the deal they made the night before because they can ill afford the sale. Lingk informs Roma that his wife had contacted their attorney, who told them they have three business days before their decision to invest in the property is final. Scrambling to salvage the deal, Roma tries to deceive Lingk by telling him that the check he wrote the night before has yet to be cashed, and that accordingly he has time to reason with his wife and reconsider. At the same time, Levene abets Roma by claiming to be a wealthy investor and friend of Roma's who just happens to be on his way to the airport, and is dependent on Roma for a ride. Williamson (unaware of Roma and Levene's stalling tactic) lies to Lingk claiming that he already deposited his check in the bank. Upset, Lingk rushes out of the office, threatening to contact the state's attorney for legal action, and Roma berates Williamson for what he has done. Roma then enters Williamson's office to take his turn being interrogated by the police. Alone with Williamson, Levene, still giddy and proud of the large sale he made that morning, takes the opportunity to mock Williamson in private. Levene further yells at Mr. Williamson for costing Roma's sale commission and tells him not to make things up unless it helps with business. Suddenly, the worm turns when Williamson firmly asks Levene: "How do you know I made it up?"
In his zeal to emasculate Williamson as he has done to him several times, Levene inadvertently revealed that he knew Williamson was lying to Roma on the spur of the moment about taking Lingk's check to the bank, and that Williamson actually left Lingk's check on his desk and did not make the bank run the previous night.... something only the man who broke into the office would know. Williamson catches Levene's slip-up quickly and compels Levene to admit that he broke into the office. Levene tries laughing it off, but he eventually breaks down and admits that he indeed broke into the office because he and Moss conspired to steal the Glengarry leads to sell to Jerry Graff. Apparently, Levene somehow ended up being Moss' accomplice in the plan after Aaronow (which Levene apparently does not know about) had turned down Moss' offer. Levene explains that the current situation has made him realize that being a salesman is what he was meant to do in life. Mr. Williamson tells Shelley Levene that his "big sale" has an incredible client credibility, and that he is a terrible salesman.
Mr. Williamson tells Levene that he is finished and he will turn him into the authorities. Levene attempts to bargain with Mr. Williamson, but Williamson reveals to Levene that the buyers to whom he made the $82,000 sale earlier are in fact crazy and have no money, and that he has no interest in helping Levene with anything for the simple reason that Williamson dislikes him. Levene makes a last-ditch attempt at gaining sympathy from Williamson by mentioning his daughter's health, but Williamson cruelly rebuffs him and leaves to inform the detective about Levene's part in the burglary.
Williamson walks into his office as Roma walks out. Unaware of Levene's guilt, Roma talks to Levene about forming a business partnership before the detective starts calling for Levene. Levene walks, defeated, into Williamson's office. Roma then leaves the office to go out for lunch, while Aaronow returns back to his desk to make his sales calls as usual.