Al Pacino’s real-estate salesman Ricky Roma slags his manager, John Williamson (Kevin Spacey): “You stupid fucking cunt. I’m talking to you, shithead. . . . Whoever told you you could work with men?”
Ah, the sound of David Mamet — vulgar, elliptical, tinged with mirth and malice. Mamet’s gutter lyricism lit up his 1984 play Glengarry Glen Ross (it won a Pulitzer). Now Mamet and director James Foley (After Dark, My Sweet) want to get the urgency of those verbal pyrotechnics onscreen. They don’t always make it. But when they do, this brilliant black comedy doesn’t just dazzle; it stings.
The salesmen hang out in Chinese restaurants, bars, cars and phone booths, but mostly in a grungy office that has just been robbed. Somebody’s lifted a new list of leads (hot prospects), and the police are investigating. In these hard times, a man who sells worthless land might easily steal to get an edge and save his job.
Alan Arkin and Ed Harris bring wry desperation to their roles as former sales champs. Jonathan Pryce gets splendidly unglued as a sucker who tries to evade a close. And Spacey and Alec Baldwin (exceptional in a role not in the play) give the management side just the right doses of self-love and self-loathing.
But it’s Pacino’s sharpie and Jack Lemmon’s sagging old-timer, Shelley “the Machine” Levene, who cut deepest. Pacino in top form is something to see, especially when he generously encourages Levene to relive a tough sale in a woman’s kitchen. Levene: “Tm eating her crumb cake.” Roma: “How was it?” Levene: “From the store.” Roma: “Fuck her.” Lemmon lays on too much heart, but the pathos of his final scene is well earned. The pleasure of this unique film comes in watching superb actors dine on Mamet’s pungent language like the feast it is.