Glengarry Glen Ross is a movie based on the play by David Mamet. It is a simple story of a group of desperate and largely unsuccessful real estate salesmen as they try everything they can to make a sale and get some money. Featuring one of the best casts ever assembled on screen, it is an incredibly compelling film, even if it is just about people talking. Thanks to the amazing dialogue and terrific performances, it is a riveting show to watch.
The various employees of the real estate company are all chasing success to different degrees. Some are on a hot streak, others haven’t made a sale in a long time. Some hold power over others, while others are talked down to. These dynamics change throughout the film and make the relationships between the characters all the more interesting, which leads to some thrilling confrontations. Here are the employees in Glengarry Glen Ross, ranked worst to best.
6 George Aaronow
In the setting of the film, George (Alan Arkin) is not the least successful salesman in the office, but you get the sense that he has never been the best at any time. He feels like the kind of person who has never been successful in his life and that success will forever evade him. He is a miserable, dour man who is constantly bemoaning his poor luck.
We don’t see him being much of a salesman within the film other than a few sales calls we overhear. Even in these small moments, we feel that his heart isn’t in the game and that he has no skills to speak of. He is low-energy, ill-prepared, and lacks any confidence whatsoever. He is one of the few characters in the film that doesn’t talk about his own talents.
5 Shelley Levene
While the movie is very much an ensemble piece, it could be argued that Shelley (Jack Lemmon) is the main character. As Shelley, Lemmon gives one of his best performances as a man who would be sympathetic if he wasn’t so pathetic. Shelley is the old man in the office and, despite still having a lot of heart for the job, he just doesn’t have what it takes anymore.
Shelley is a sad sack like George, but he tries to hide it as much as possible. He remembers the days where he was the top man in the office and is desperate to be back on top, but he won’t admit to himself that those days are long gone. Even his restored confidence at landing a massive sale is shattered when he realizes the deal was no good. In the end, he is pushed into illegal acts just to get ahead but fails to make that work as well.
4 Dave Moss
While Shelley and George are more pathetic in their lack of success, Dave (Ed Harris) is just angry. The entire movie, Dave is on the edge of a full-blown rage-filled meltdown. We know he has had good stretches in the past and can be quite proud of himself in those moments, but his cold streak during the film makes him a bitter man.
His short-tempered outbursts are aimed at everyone and anyone who isn’t him. He blames everyone else for his failures and resents the more successful people in the office. When his talents are called into question, he flies into a profanity-filled rant, unleashing all his frustration on everyone. In the end, Dave believes he is owed more than he’s got and turns to crime to get who he thinks he deserves.
3 John Williamson
Williamson (Kevin Spacey) is maybe the most hated man in the office. As the office manager, he technically runs the place, but he gets no respect from the salesmen. They see him as an inexperienced punk who doesn’t know anything about being a salesman and is only in his position through nepotism.
His inexperience is shown when he accidentally terminates a huge sale. For his failure, he is humiliated and talked down to like he is a child. Knowing he made a severe error, any sign of superiority in the office disappears. However, Williamson is at least smart enough to find out who stole the missing leads from the office. Just as he was embarrassed, Williamson takes great pleasure in making Shelley squirm and beg after he is exposed as a thief.
Blake (Alec Baldwin) might not be a member of the central office, but he does work for real estate bosses. He is also the only character who was not featured in the original play but was created just for the film. Blake is a hotshot who is sent in to motivate the office into selling more. His vulgar and abusive rant against the salesmen is the highlights of the film.
He brutally explains to the men why he is and always will be more successful than them and why they are losers. Given how over-the-top Blake is in bragging about his own success, it makes you wonder if he might be stretching the truth. However, it’s clear that he’s achieved some level of success in the company, and it’s hard to deny he is a compelling motivator.
1 Ricky Roma
Ricky (Al Pacino) is the big man in the office. Though he might not have always been the office’s top earner, he certainly feels like he is going to be staying in that position for a long time. Ricky has all the confidence in the world, which can make him a bit of a jerk around the office.
We see Ricky’s salesman talents put to work with a man he targets in a bar. Making friends with a stranger, he takes his time and chooses his moments before laying a trap like an expert hunter. Unlike Shelley’s desperate and invasive method of selling, Ricky is patient and lets the buyer come to him. As smooth as he is, we also see what happens when Ricky is caught off-guard. He is not above lying and cheating to make sure he makes his money.
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