A brutal satire on salesmanship. After a cutthroat sales incentive is announced at a real estate office, a team of salesmen react in increasingly erratic ways.
For some reason, I feel like I’ve always remembered Alec Baldwin (“The Departed”) saying the words “A.B.C. Always Be Closing.” It’s one of those phrases that probably arose around the time I was becoming conscious of the world, and has been with me all my life, but I’d never really had any interest in seeing this movie, primarily because my first exposure to it was through a salesman who quoted it a few times at my office. Allow me to tell you a story that I think perfectly illustrates this movie (if you just want the review, skip to the quotes).
I work for a TV program that survives on sales (in order to be featured on our morning show you have to pay), so, naturally, I’ve had quite a bit of interaction with sales people.
One day, as I was driving a reporter, a salesman, and myself to a shoot, the salesman received a call. I turned down the radio so that the person could take their call and did my best not to eavesdrop, but, as the car was small, I overheard their whole conversation. He talked to a client about appearing on our show. He talked about how we would be able to go out to the client-in-question’s place of business and do a shoot, and then he promised that on an average morning, the segment would be seen by almost fifty-thousand people.
That’s one-fourth the size of the city I live in. He was promising a client that ¼ of the population of the second largest city in the state of Michigan would all be watching a local talk show from the hours of 9:00AM-10:00AM on a week day. I almost laughed. When he got off the phone, I asked him where he had got his numbers for how many people watched us, and to my great surprise, he laughed, and quite easily said, “I’m a salesman. I lie for a living.”
That comment has forever shaped my opinion on salespeople, and I couldn’t help but be reminded of that story again and again while I watched this film. Though I am not in sales, I have worked quite closely with salespeople, and I found this movie to be a pretty accurate portrayal of the cutthroat/ dog-eat-dog sales mentality.
“Coffee is for closers.”
After it is announced that all but the top two performing salesmen of a real estate office will be fired following the conclusion of a sales promotion, a team of salesmen is thrown into disarray.
David Mamet adapted this movie from a play he wrote of the same name, and as with many films made from plays this feels like a play. There’s even a moment when I thought to myself, oh here’s the break, and now we’re on to act two. Movies based on plays usually survive on two things: writing and acting, and this film delivers both in droves.
I can’t point to anyone in this movie and say, this person didn’t act as well as one of the others, because they all knocked the performances out of the park. Alec Baldwin’s ‘Always Be Closing’ speech actually came at the beginning of the film, so he wasn’t in this nearly as much as I anticipated. I honestly thought Alan Arkin (“The Rocketeer”) was one of the more compelling characters, though Jack Lemmon (“Some Like it Hot”) really surprised me when he stole quite a few scenes. Al Pacino (“Serpico”) was nominated for this role (his seventh nomination without a win), but lost; however he was nominated for Best Actor the same year for “Scent of a Woman”, and he won that Oscar. I honestly was surprised Pacino was nominated for this role. While he definitely had the most screen presence in this movie, I thought it was because he played the character in a way that seemed borderline over the top.
The writing is really what shines in this film. While the story itself isn’t particularly funny, Mamet’s dialogue and scenes are filled with satire and criticism about the world of salesmanship. We get insights into how little the salespeople seem to care about their customers. Lie to them? Why not? Its just more money in their pocket. Steal leads from other salespeople and throw them under the bus to make yourself a little more money? Of course, that’s just business. How else are you going to make money? Mamet makes it clear that he’s attacking our capitalistic society, but he does so in a way that feels desperately realistic. While some of the incidents that happen in the play are a little farfetched, it’s easy to believe that, if pushed in the right ways, a team of salespeople could easily devolve into the rabble portrayed here.
Mamet makes you want to take a step back and think about the state we as a society have gotten ourselves into. This constant state of rushing around trying to sell things that have little to no value has turned our world into a cold place filled with money-starved predators. Mamet’s vision of this world of sales is as bleak as it is important.
While I love a good film comprised only of dialogue, I’m sure some people might find this film a bit tedious. If you want action and adventure in your movie, this isn’t something you’ll probably enjoy, but if you can appreciate some deftly written dialogue and understand the point that Mamet is trying to make, this film is incredibly compelling. Great performances, a nigh perfect script, and some brilliant observations about our modern society make this one of the tighter dramas I’ve seen in a while. I absolutely recommend it.
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