Friday, March 30, 2012

28 Days Later / 28 Weeks Later

When 28 Days Later came out in 2002, it was perceived as a welcome breath of fresh air in the horror and science fiction genres which had become stagnant and predictable. It proved that in the best tradition of Night of the Living Dead (1968) and Halloween (1978), the most effective horror films are made independently, and that they can scare us while also making us think. 28 Days Later is generally considered to be a post-apocalyptic science fiction film — after all, the premise involves Great Britain ravaged by a highly contagious virus and follows the adventures of four survivors. However, director Danny Boyle shoots his film in a way that shifts from ominous feelings of dread to outright sweaty-palmed terror reminiscent of George Romero’s zombie films albeit on speed.


28 Days Later struck a nerve not just among horror fans but moviegoers in general and was a surprise success. The inevitable sequel followed, but instead of going for an easy, quickie film that coasts on the reputation of its predecessor, 28 Weeks Later (2007) uses the effects of the virus outbreak and the government’s reaction to it as a commentary on real-life bureaucratic reactions to Hurricane Katrina and the war in Iraq. Even more impressively, 28 Weeks Later is a rare sequel that is as good if not better than its predecessor.

In 28 Days Later, Jim (Cillian Murphy) wakes up in a hospital 28 days after three animal activists broke into the Cambridge Primate Research Facility to free chimpanzees being experimented on but unwittingly released a virus known as Rage into British society. Unaware of what has transpired, Jim wanders the gloomily empty streets of downtown London trying to figure out what the hell is going on. Buses and trucks are overturned and abandoned while the normally clean streets are littered with trash and, in one instance, some money (although it’s pretty much useless now). Jim picks up a newspaper and quickly gets an inkling of what went down — the country has been evacuated as the Rage virus devastated the population.

Jim walks up the steps in a church and behind him someone has painted on the wall in large letters, “The end is extremely fucking nigh,” which sets just the right creepy tone. He walks into the chapel and it is packed with dead bodies like some kind of perverse variation on the Jonestown Massacre. He also encounters his first infected person as a priest rushes crazily at him and Jim barely escapes. In doing so, he encounters two other survivors who rescue him by torching a few infected people with Molotov cocktails but they keep on coming despite being transformed into human torches. Mark (Noah Huntley) and Selena (Naomie Harris) fill Jim in on what has happened while he was in the hospital and how far the infection has spread. And so begins Jim’s quest to find other survivors and a safe haven to hold up until this epidemic plays out.

Boyle times his jolts well, like when Jim reflects on his dead parents in their home when suddenly two of their neighbors, out of their heads with the virus, come bursting in. Mark and Selena intervene but he gets some of the infected blood into a wound and that’s all it takes to become infected. She unhesitatingly hacks him to death with a machete in a truly horrifying scene. It’s not just the sudden nature of the attack but the brutal way in which Selena deals with Mark. She is a refreshingly practical character who lays it all out for Jim: “Plans are pointless. Staying alive’s as good as it gets.” When you’ve had to kill loved ones or watched them die, there isn’t much room for hope or romanticism and a survival instinct takes over.

Boyle wisely cast relative unknowns (at the time) Cillian Murphy (Batman Begins) and Naomie Harris (Miami Vice) who had no movie star baggage and weren’t linked to iconic roles yet. This gives 28 Days Later an unpredictable edge as we don’t know who will live or die. They are supported by veteran character actors Christopher Eccleston (The Others) and Brendan Gleeson (In Bruges). Eccleston, who appeared in Boyle’s first film Shallow Grave (1994), brings an edgy intensity to his role of a twisted military commander, while Gleeson plays a good-natured survivor with a daughter (Megan Burns) that Jim and Selena meet in London. Eccleston and Gleeson bring the necessary gravitas to their respective roles and this helps anchor the film.

Many reviewers mistakenly referred to the infected as zombies. They aren’t the lumbering undead; they’re infected — fast and very lethal. 28 Days Later was compared to George A. Romero’s Dead films, which, to a degree is apt because they both deal with post-apocalyptic societies struggling to survive against overwhelming odds. There are the obvious nods to Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1978) with the carefree shopping spree in a deserted supermarket and the tense attempt to get gas at a seemingly deserted station. However, the Romero film 28 Days Later most closely echoes is The Crazies (1973) about a small community whose inhabitants are driven insane by a government created biological weapon. Boyle’s film is obviously on a much larger scale but some of the same ideas are explored, such as the disintegration of society as the result of government sanctioned experiments. As with Romero’s films, the military are not to be trusted as evident with Major Henry West (Christopher Eccleston) and his warped cure for the infected and the way he maintains order among the uninfected. He’s drunk on power, much like Captain Rhodes (Joe Pilato), the military leader in Day of the Dead (1985).

28 Days Later is a powerful statement about how easily societal order can break down bringing out the best and worst in us. It presents characters we grow to care about and become emotionally invested in. The film also delivers the requisite thrills and genuine scares that are strategically positioned for maximum effect. 28 Weeks Later starts off with a bang as a small cottage of survivors living outside of London is attacked by a horde of the infected with only one person managing to escape. Donald Harris (Robert Carlyle) abandons his wife (Catherine McCormack) to save his own skin — a split-second decision he deeply regrets and which will have serious repercussions later on. Shaky, hand-held camerawork captures his desperate escape from the infected with incredible, frenetic intensity that quickly establishes the film’s grim tone. Don makes it to safety and is reunited with his two children, Andy (Mackintosh Muggleton) and Tammy (Imogen Poots), in London.

It is 28 weeks after the initial outbreak and all the infected have starved to death. The United States military have occupied London and are allowing refugees back in. Sound familiar? Shades of post-Katrina New Orleans anyone? Andy and Tammy defy the safety zone laws and return to their home to pick up some stuff. In the process, they are reunited with their mother who has been infected but for some unknown reason has not gone crazy like the others. In what will prove to be a fatal error in judgment, the military decide to study Don’s wife instead of destroying her outright. Once all hell breaks loose, Andy, Tammy, Scarlett (Rose Byrne), a doctor they meet, and Sergeant Doyle (Jeremy Renner), a soldier who helps them escape during the chaos of the new outbreak, try to find a way out of London.

The film is rife with references to Katrina. Once the virus breaks out, a group of refugees are herded into an underground parking garage for their “safety” only for order to break down a la the Superdome debacle. Later, as the refugees flee through the streets with the infected in pursuit, the military give up trying to target the infected and begin shooting everyone that eerily echoes the Northern Ireland massacre in 1972.

28 Weeks Later is one of those all-bets-are-off horror films where you really don’t know who is going to live and who is going to die. There are safety zones, such as big name movie stars, that often indicate who will survive, but not in this film which only enhances the unbelievable tension that the filmmakers create. It is very rare that a sequel is as good as or better than the one that came before it — The Godfather Part II (1974) and The Bourne Supremacy (2004) come immediately to mind. The filmmakers behind 28 Weeks Later are not merely content to rehash the first film. They build on it and go off in new and exciting directions, expanding the world that was created in 28 Days Later.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Extreme Prejudice


Film director Walter Hill has had, at times, a frustratingly and wildly uneven career that features stone cold classics (The Warriors) alongside baffling misfires (Crossroads). His main stock and trade is old school tough guy action films and they don’t come anymore badass than the criminally underrated Extreme Prejudice (1987). Based on a story co-written by John Milius (Apocalypse Now) and starring Nick Nolte and Powers Boothe, it was Hill’s two-fisted homage to the films of Sam Peckinpah who he had worked for early on his career as the screenwriter for The Getaway (1972). Like many of Hill’s own action films, Extreme Prejudice is a modern western featuring two uncompromising men at odds with one another.

Six mysterious men show up in El Paso, Texas. Officially listed as dead by the United States government, they are part of an elite top-secret military unit led by the no-nonsense Paul Hackett (Michael Ironside), a D.E.A. agent. We soon meet Texas Ranger Jack Benteen (Nick Nolte), a lawman with the cojones to go into a crowded Mexican bar with a loaded rifle looking for a suspect only to coolly gun him down when the guy pulls a pistol. He teams up with local county sheriff Hank Pearson (Rip Torn), the man who taught him how to be a lawman. It turns out that the suspect was a “poor dirt farmer” running dope for Cash Bailey (Powers Boothe) in order to make ends meet. Cash is the local drug kingpin and a man so tough he lets a scorpion crawl along his hand before crushing it. He and Jack were best friends in high school but now they are on opposite sides of the law. Unbeknownst to Jack, Hackett and his men are intent on busting Cash as well.

Nick Nolte plays one of Hill’s trademark laconic men of action and of few words, like the enigmatic getaway driver in The Driver (1978), Swan in The Warriors (1979) and Tom Cody in Streets of Fire (1984). Jack and Cash are throwbacks to a bygone era. 100 years ago they’d have been gunslingers in the Wild West. Nolte has got the steely determination thing down cold and an innate understanding of Hill’s worldview, embodying it with ease. Like many of the director’s protagonists, Jack doesn’t like to talk about his feelings, not even to his long-suffering girlfriend (Maria Conchita Alonso). He’d rather do something than talk about it. It’s great to see him reunited with Hill after their initial collaboration on 48 Hrs. (1982). In an ideal world, they would be making all kinds of films together with Nolte the De Niro to Hill’s Scorsese, both bringing out the best in each other.

For the role of Jack, Hill wanted someone who was “representative of the tradition of the American West – taciturn, stoical, enduring,” and had Nolte watch a lot of films starring Gary Cooper, Randolph Scott and John Wayne. Nolte wanted to recapture “the demeanor of how those ‘40s characters carried themselves – how they dressed and carried their guns.” In order to play a credible Texas Ranger, the actor asked writer friend Peter Gent (North Dallas Forty) to recommend someone to act as a model for his character. Gent suggested real-life Ranger Joaquin Jackson. He and Nolte went over the screenplay and incorporated more of the type of language Rangers use and their relationship with other law enforcement agencies.

In a precursor to his grinning baddie in Tombstone (1993), Powers Boothe plays a genial antagonist in Extreme Prejudice while also sporting a dapper white suit. Cash sees the drug trade as simply giving the people what they want. Early on, Boothe has a nice scene with Nolte where their two characters meet and Jack warns Cash that if he crosses the border into the U.S. he will bust him and his operation. Unfazed and as cool as they come, Cash says to his old friend, “I got a feeling the next time we run into each other we’re gonna have a killing. Just a feeling.” Think of this scene as the pulpy precursor to the legendary diner scene in Heat (1995) between Robert De Niro and Al Pacino only with two legendary character actors instead. The message in both scenes is the same: the next time Cash and Jack meet, one of them is not going to survive the encounter. For any fan of these two actors, this scene (and their final one at the end of the film) is a lot of fun to watch as these forces of nature square off against each other with Cash being gregarious yet still threatening and Jack all stoic determination. With his portrayal, Boothe has said that he wanted Cash to be “multi-faceted, a fully-rounded human being.” I don’t know if he achieves that exactly, but Cash is certainly more than a mere stock villainous character.

The cast of Extreme Prejudice is populated with an embarrassment of character acting riches. William Forsythe (The Devil’s Rejects) plays a grinning good ol’ boy troublemaker; Michael Ironside (Scanners) is the all-business leader of a group of soldiers; Clancy Brown (Highlander) is one of his reliable henchmen; and Rip Torn plays Jack’s mentor who recognizes what Cash represents: “How it comes around. Right way’s the hardest. Wrong way’s the easiest. Rule of nature, like water seeks the path of least resistance so you get crooked rivers and crooked men.” Well said, sir!

Hill not only indulges in his Peckinpah admiration with some of the film’s themes but more explicitly in how he stages and edits the exciting action sequences complete with slow motion carnage that culminates in the climactic bloodbath between Jack, Hackett and his men and Cash and his private army that evokes the penultimate showdown in The Wild Bunch (1969). This is also evident Hill’s storytelling method as Extreme Prejudice is trimmed of any unnecessary narrative fat. Every scene services the story with refreshing efficiency by someone who knows how to tell a story and tell it well.

At the time, Extreme Prejudice was viewed as Hill’s take on the drug wars and the U.S. government’s handling of it with Jack as his mouthpiece when he tells Hackett at one point, “Bunch of bureaucratic fat asses fluffing their duff. They been sitting on my request for drug information for over a year but it’s classified. They’re afraid somebody or some country’s gonna get their feelings hurt.” Hill clearly sees the government as an impediment rather than a resource to men like Jack who are fighting the war in the trenches, dealing with it on a daily basis. The director said in an interview that he saw the film as a critique of “machismo politics” and of “American military involvement beyond our borders, beyond constitutional means.”

Extreme Prejudice is highly critical of the drug wars but refuses to be preachy about it as is the tendency of films like Traffic (2000). Hill is more interested in depicting the struggles of foot soldiers like Jack and how it affects him personally. It also suggests that the government regards people like Hackett and his men as “just numbers on a bureaucratic desk,” as one character puts it. Jack and Cash are above all that because they don’t care about the system. They work within it when they have to but have their own personal code of honor, which they follow. This highly critical viewpoint may explain why it took 10 years for the film to get made, going through several studios and directors because of its “political ramifications” as Boothe said in an interview.

Extreme Prejudice received a perfunctory theatrical release and was not a commercial success. It received mostly positive reviews from critics. Roger Ebert gave the film three out of four stars and wrote, “What makes the film good are Hill’s style and the acting.” In her review for The New York Times, Janet Maslin wrote, “If Mr. Hill, whose best films have a genuinely hard-boiled glamour, never intends this as parody, neither is he ever more than a hair away.” The Chicago Tribune’s Dave Kehr wrote, “If characters are caught in a shrinking world that leaves no room for notions as grand as ‘good’ and ‘evil,’ but only a sordid, creeping malignancy that levels everything in its path.” In his review for the Los Angeles Times, Kevin Thomas wrote, “Sensational rather than serious, it is an exploitation picture but one with class: it has style, a point to make that happens to be highly topical and, thankfully, a dry, saving sense of humor.” However, the Washington Post’s Richard Harrington felt that “there are simply too many problems, starting with Hill’s clumsy exposition and clumsier development.” Newsweek magazine’s David Ansen was also critical of “Hill’s calcified, comic-book notion of movie machismo.” Extreme Prejudice has largely been forgotten, even by fans of Hill’s films, but deserves to be rediscovered and recognized as one of his very best efforts.

NOTE: This post was inspired by Sean Gill's own highly entertaining review over at his blog.


SOURCES

Lovell, Glenn. “Nick Nolte Far From Down, Out.” Orlando Sentinel. April 29, 1987.

“Names in the News.” Associated Press. April 25, 1987.


Scott, Vernon. “The Rev. Jim Jones Haunts Actor.” United Press International. May 27, 1987.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Re-Animator

Armed with razor-sharp wit and a plethora of plasma, Re-Animator splashed its way onto movie screens in 1985 and more than 25 years later still continues to haunt the living. By using a then-obscure H.P. Lovecraft story as a springboard, director Stuart Gordon dove head first into the realm of postmortem peculiarities, and ironically offered a pleasing marriage of humor and horror. So, what exactly is being reanimated, you ask? Well that depends on what’s available: cats, colleagues, girlfriends. They have to be dead, of course, and the fresher the better. Okay, I know, once you’re dead, you’re dead: enter the Grim Reaper and good-bye soul. But what if death could be reversed? No, it’s impossible; death is the only inevitability that we know is certain...or is it?




The story centers around Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs), an enigmatic medical student recently arrived at Miskatonic University, and whose liquid lunch for the dead promises a miraculous rebirth just in time for dinner. With the help of his roommate Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott), the two crazed, but persistent demigods syringe their languid recipients until some sign of life occurs. Unfortunately, the dead don’t always return smiling, and by some hideous defiance of natural law, they have come back with a vicious vengeance for anything and anyone in their way. This postmodern clash of the titans between the alive and the half-alive achieves epic harmony in no other battleground more appropriate than the hospital morgue, which offers an outstanding surplus of bodies and blood that would make any jaded gorehound scream for more and raised the bar on the amount of carnage depicted on-screen (until Peter Jackson’s Braindead came along, that is).


The film’s tantalizing prologue creates just the right amount of dread and mystery as a young man crouches over the body of an older man writhing in pain. The authorities come busting in only to witness the old man’s eyeballs pop out like zits. A nurse accuses the younger man of killing the other to which he denies and says, turning dramatically to face the camera, “I gave him life.” Welcome to Re-Animator and the opening credits play over Richard Band’s loving homage to Bernard Hermann’s music for the opening credits of Psycho (1960).


We meet Dan trying desperately to save a patient that’s flatlined. Even after others have given up he still tries. He takes the body to the morgue where we meet Dr. Carl Hill (David Gale) for the first time as he uses a laser on a corpse’s skull. Dean Alan Halsey (Robert Sampson) introduces Dan to West who proceeds to arrogantly and openly challenge Hill’s work on the limit of life of the brain stem after death. It’s fun to see the prickly West square off against the haughty Hill as the former slams the latter’s work as being derivative to the point of plagiarism. This is only the beginning of an ongoing feud that develops between the two men. There’s clearly not enough room on campus for both of their inflated egos. West soon moves in with Dan, who is looking for a roommate to share the rent, much to the chagrin of the latter’s girlfriend, Megan (Barbara Crampton), the Dean’s daughter who is unaware that his child is having sex with one of his students. West begins conducting experiments in the basement with his own reagent, reanimating dead animals before moving on to human cadavers at the university.


All of these ingredients are fine and dandy, but Re-Animator did not rise to cult status by special effects alone. The curse of a low budget actually fashions an intriguing cast of nobodies, and the stone-faced seriousness with which these actors engage the witty, death-induced dialogue adds a parodic twist to a sometimes melodramatic genre. Chief among them is Jeffrey Combs who plays West with just the right amount of weasely bravado, which he conveys so well with the clipped speech patterns of someone who doesn’t suffer fools gladly and says exactly what he means. I like the way he gives his dialogue a slightly melodramatic spin that never gets too cartoonish but chews just enough scenery to make his take on West very memorable. His character is obsessed with conquering brain death to the point of lunacy and it is fun to watch as his experiments become more ambitious and extreme.


I love the petulant way Combs’ West acts at Hill’s lecture, breaking two pencils at strategic points during the class until the exasperated professor tells him, “I suggest you get yourself a pen!” And then West lets him have it” You know, you should have stolen more of Gruber’s ideas then at least you’d have ideas.” David Gale nails the pompous Dr. Hill’s self-importance and feelings of superiority over everybody around him. He’s the bad guy you love to hate and his scenes with Combs are a lot of fun as we watch these two egotists butt heads.


Bruce Abbott has the unenviable task of playing the upstanding good guy Dan but thanks to the sharply written screenplay by Gordon, William J. Norris, and Dennis Paoli, he is given a substantial character to inhabit and we can easily relate to him. Dan becomes more conflicted as the film progresses and he finds himself caught up in West’s schemes to conquer death. Abbott may not get the most memorable dialogue to spout but he grounds the film with his everyman character caught up in extraordinary circumstances. He also plays well off Combs’ mad scientist, acting as the voice of reason in an increasingly strange world. Abbott is particularly strong in the sequence where he and West reanimate a cadaver and things go badly. While West continues to rant and rave, already looking ahead to the next experiment, Dan goes into shock after having witnessed a dead body coming back to life and go apeshit on Dean Halsey, killing him. Dan reacts like any rational human being would in that situation and Abbott’s performance grounds the film at just the right moments so that we accept the more outlandish ones.


Genre darling Barbara Crampton (From Beyond) manages to make what is basically a damsel in distress role memorable with her spunky charm and beautiful looks, not to mention her courage, which is put to the test in the film’s most infamous scene where Dr. Hill’s reanimated severed head attempts to perform a sexual act on her while she’s tied up that has to be seen to be believed. Beyond that, Crampton does a nice job of conveying the emotional breakdown of Meg after Dan tells her about her father’s death and then has to accept his reanimated resurrection.


As Re-Animator progresses, Gordon continues to up the ante in terms of gory set pieces. In the first one, West is armed with a syringe of his reagent, from there he moves on to a dead cat and then deals with an ornery human cadaver with a bone saw, culminating in the final showdown between Dan and West and Dr. Hill and his small army of reanimated corpses, which gives the film’s dazzling makeup effects quite a workout. For a low-budget film, they are surprisingly excellent and it helps that the actors do a lot to really sell it.


The idea to make Re-Animator came from a discussion Stuart Gordon had with friends one night about vampire films. He felt that there were too many Dracula movies and expressed a desire to see a Frankenstein one. Someone asked if he had read Herbert West – Re-Animator by H.P. Lovecraft. Gordon had read most of Lovecraft’s works but that book had been out of print and so he read a copy of it at the Chicago Public Library.


Originally, Gordon was going to adapt Re-Animator for his theater company the Organic Theater and then, at some point, decided to make it as a horror film using the theater as a soundstage. However, the powers that be didn’t like the idea of him making a horror film and felt that he should be making an art film instead. Then, he and writers Dennis Paoli and William Norris decided to do it as a half-hour television pilot. The story was originally set around the turn of the century and they realized that it would be too expensive to be recreated and updated it to the present day in Chicago, using actors from the Organic Theater Company of which Gordon was a member. They were told that the half-hour format was not salable and so they made it an hour, writing 13 episodes. Gordon was then told that the only market for the horror genre was in feature films. He was soon introduced to producer Brian Yuzna by mutual friend Bob Greenberg, a special effects artist who had worked on John Carpenter’s Dark Star (1974).


Yuzna saw Gordon’s current play entitled, ER, about an emergency room and was impressed with the screenplay for the pilot and the 13 episodes. Greenberg and Yuzna convinced Gordon to shoot Re-Animator in Hollywood because of all the special effects involved. Once there, Yuzna made a distribution deal with Charles Band’s Empire Pictures in return for post-production services. The budget was set for just under a million dollars with Yuzna describing it as having the “sort of shock sensibility of an Evil Dead with the production values of, hopefully, The Howling.” For research, Gordon and Yuzna interviewed several pathologists and toured a morgue in Los Angeles. Once the actors were cast, Gordon took them on a tour of the Cook County morgue in Chicago to show them how the bodies were treated and how the people who worked acted. A lot of the film’s gallows humor came from the pathologists he met.


John Naulin worked on Re-Animator’s gruesome makeup effects and drew inspiration from “disgusting shots brought out from the Cook County morgue of all kinds of different lividities and different corpses.” He and Gordon also used a book of forensic pathology in order to present how a corpse looks once the blood settles in the body, creating a variety of odd skin tones. Naulin said that it was the bloodiest film he had ever worked on. In the past, he never used more than two gallons of blood on a film. On Re-Animator, he used 24 gallons of blood. The biggest makeup challenge in the film was the headless Dr. Hill zombie. Tony Doublin designed the mechanical effects and was faced with the problem of proportion once the 9-10 inches of the head were removed. Each scene had to use a different technique. For example, one involved building an upper torso that actor David Gale could bend over and stick his head through so that it appeared to be the one that the walking corpse was carrying around.


Re-Animator received positive reviews from critics back in the day. Roger Ebert gave the film three out of four stars and found it to be, “a frankly gory horror movie that finds a rhythm and a style that make it work in a cockeyed, offbeat sort of way. It's charged up by the tension between the director's desire to make a good movie, and his realization that few movies about mad scientists and dead body parts are ever likely to be very good.” The New York Times’ Janet Maslin felt that it, “has a fast pace and a good deal of grisly vitality. It even has a sense of humor, albeit one that would be lost on 99.9 percent of any ordinary moviegoing crowd.” In his review for the Los Angeles Times, Kevin Thomas praised Combs’ performance: “The big noise is Combs, a small, compact man of terrific intensity and concentration.” Pauline Kael herself raved about it: “It’s like pop Bunuel, the jokes hit you in a subterranean comic zone that the surrealists’ pranks sometimes reached, but without the surrealists’ self-consciousness.”


When Re-Animator came out there hadn’t been a good mad scientist movie in some time. The horror genre during the early to mid ‘80s had been dominated by the slasher franchises of Friday the 13th, Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street so Gordon’s film felt like a breath of fresh air. It went on to develop enough of a cult following to spawn two sequels – Bride of Re-Animator (1990) and Beyond Re-Animator (2003) – and a musical proving that Lovecraft’s original story continues to fascinate people. It may also be the age-old theme of science messing with things, like death, with disastrous results. The film features a battle between two brilliant men recklessly playing God without thinking about the consequences.


SOURCES

Doughton, K.J. “Stuart Gordon: Body of Work.” Film Threat. July 17, 2002.


Williams, Ross. “Stuart Gordon: King of the Gorehounds.” Film Threat. July 9, 2003.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Trainspotting

Trainspotting flew out of the gates in 1996 and took the world by storm, first causing a sensation in the United Kingdom, and then moving on to the United States bolstered by a soundtrack that mixed classic rockers (Lou Reed, Iggy Pop) with contemporary ones (Blur, Primal Scream). Audiences couldn’t get enough of this gritty, often funny, sometimes harrowing tale of Scottish heroin addicts. Based on Irvine Welsh’s edgy cult novel of the same name, Trainspotting was adapted by a trio of filmmakers – director Danny Boyle, screenwriter John Hodge and producer Andrew Macdonald – who had previously collaborated on the nasty suspense thriller Shallow Grave (1994). They chose just the right passages from the novel and proceeded to capture the spirit of what Welsh was trying to say without judging the characters. This resulted in the film getting into trouble as some critics felt it glorified drug addiction. The film takes an unflinching look at the lives of a group of drug addicts and shows why they do drugs — the highs are so unbelievably amazing. However, Trainspotting also shows the flip side: death, poverty and desperation, which lead to stealing, lying and cheating just to get more drugs. Regardless, the film was a commercial and critical success, spawning all sorts of imitators and influencing countless other U.K. filmmakers to go through the door that it kicked open.


The six-minute prologue does a brilliant job of introducing a group of Scottish drug addicts as seen through the eyes of one of them — Mark “Rent Boy” Renton (Ewan McGregor). His friends include a speed freak motormouth named Daniel “Spud” Murphy (Ewen Bremner), a suave ladies’ man, Simon “Sick Boy” Williamson (Jonny Lee Miller), straight-edged Tommy MacKenzie (Kevin McKidd) and sociopath Francis “Franco” Begbie (Robert Carlyle). Each one of them has their own distinct personality that each actor vividly brings to life. This prologue also sets the tone for the rest of the film as it starts literally on the run with Renton and Spud being chased by the cops to the pounding strains of “Lust for Life” by Iggy Pop (before it became overused thanks to countless commercials using it bizarrely out of context) as Renton’s voiceover narration talks about his “sincere and truthful junk habit.”

The energetic camerawork — fasting moving tracking shots (that recall Mean Streets) as Spud and Renton run from the police and the freeze frames (reminiscent of GoodFellas) with title cards identifying each character is an obvious stylistic homage to Martin Scorsese. Like many of his films, Trainspotting is bursting at the seams with energy and vitality that is very engaging. The prologue does its job by immediately grabbing our attention and drawing us into this world populated by colorful characters. After 30 minutes of showing the incredible highs of shooting heroin where we’re caught up in the euphoria of it with Renton and his friends, director Danny Boyle starts to show the ugly side, starting with the death of fellow junkie Allison’s baby due to neglect.

From there, Renton and Spud get arrested for stealing with the former going into a rehab program while the latter goes to jail but not before Renton takes one more hit and promptly overdoses in a surreal bit where he sinks into the floor and is taken to the hospital by taxi seen mostly from his zonked out point-of-view to the strains of “Perfect Day” by Lou Reed. However, Trainspotting’s heart of darkness is the sequence where Renton goes through the horrors of withdrawal and his reality becomes warped by hallucinations of Allison’s dead baby and his friends. Ewan McGregor really does a fantastic job of conveying Renton in the depths of a painful and terrifying withdrawal.

John Hodge’s screenplay masterfully distills Welsh’s novel to its essence and includes some of its most memorable dialogue. From Renton’s famous “Choose life” monologue (“Choose life ... But why would I want to do a thing like that? I chose not to choose life: I chose something else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you've got heroin?”) to Sick Boy’s “Unifying Theory of Life” speech (“Well, at one time, you've got it, and then you lose it, and it's gone forever.”), Trainspotting has insanely quotable lines. This helped it develop a loyal cult following over the years that continues to champion the film even to this day. And yet what resonates most is its honesty. The film doesn’t sugarcoat its message and it isn’t preachy about it either. There is an ironic detachment that transforms it into a playful black comedy mixed with gritty drama and surreal sequences.

It doesn’t hurt that this excellent material is brought to life by a fantastic cast of then relative unknowns (especially to North American audiences). Ewan McGregor has the toughest role in the film playing an unrepentant junkie while also acting as the anchor that the audience identifies with and the character that the rest of the cast revolves around. It is a tricky balancing act because Renton does things that make him unlikable and yet we still root for him because of McGregor’s charisma. Fresh from his role as an American computer user in Hackers (1995), Jonny Lee Miller plays Sick Boy, Renton’s best mate but someone who lacks “moral fiber” despite his vast knowledge of Sean Connery. He ends up taking advantage of his friend in a dodgy scheme and Miller does a nice of showing how Sick Boy went from best mate to scheming con man.

Robert Carlyle is also great as the completely unhinged Begbie. The scene where he recounts a colorful story about playing pool (“I'm playing like Paul-Fuckin'-Newman by the way.”) and dealing with his cocky opponent (“You ken me, I'm not the type of cunt that goes looking for fuckin' bother, like, but at the end of the day I'm the cunt with a pool cue and he can get the fat end in his puss any time he fucking wanted like.”) perfectly captures the essence of his character. Begbie gets his kicks from starting up trouble. As Renton puts it, “Begbie didn't do drugs either. He just did people. That's what he got off on; his own sensory addiction.” Carlyle has a frightening intensity and an unpredictability that is unsettling and exciting to watch. Ewen Bremner completes the core group of characters as the not-too bright Spud. He has a good scene early on when, hopped up on speed, he goes to a job interview with the notion of sabotaging it without appearing to. It’s a tricky tightrope that Bremner handles expertly.

Trainspotting also features one of the best contemporary soundtracks with an eclectic mix of British music from the likes of Primal Scream, New Order, Blur and Underworld, and from America, Iggy Pop and Lou Reed. The music veers back and forth from the adrenaline-rush of Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life” to the faux spy music by Primal Scream to the drugged-out mellow mood music of “Perfect Day” by Lou Reed. Taking a page out of Scorsese’s book, the filmmakers use the music as signposts by conveying the transition of guitar-driven rock in the 1980s to the acid house music scene in the 1990s.

Producer Andrew Macdonald first read Irvine Welsh’s novel Trainspotting on a plane in December 1993 and felt that it could be made into a film. He turned it on to his filmmaking partners, director Danny Boyle and screenwriter John Hodge in February 1994. Boyle was excited by its potential to be the “most energetic film you’ve ever seen – about something that ultimately ends up in purgatory or worse.” He convinced Welsh to let them option the rights to his book by writing a letter stating that Hodge and Macdonald were “the two most important Scotsmen since Kenny Dalglish and Alex Ferguson.” (legendary European football player and manager, respectively, from Scotland) Welsh remembered that most people interested in optioning his book, “wanted to make a po-faced piece of social realism like Christiane F or The Basketball Diaries.” He was impressed that Boyle and his partners wanted everyone to see the film and “not just the arthouse audience.” Welsh agreed to sell the rights to them.

In October 1994, Boyle, Hodge and Macdonald spent a lot of time discussing which chapters of the book would and would not translate onto film. Hodge adapted the novel, finishing a first draft by December, while Macdonald secured financing from Channel 4, a British television station known for funding independent films. According to the screenwriter, his goal was to “produce a screenplay which would seem to have a beginning, a middle and an end, would last 90 minutes and would convey at least some of the spirit and the content of the book.”

Pre-production on Trainspotting began in April 1995. When it came to casting the pivotal role of Mark Renton, Boyle wanted somebody who had the quality “Michael Caine’s got in Alfie and Malcolm McDowell’s got in A Clockwork Orange”: a repulsive character with charm “that makes you feel deeply ambiguous about what he’s doing.” Boyle and Macdonald were impressed with the performance Ewan McGregor had given in their previous film, Shallow Grave, and cast him in advance. Ewen Bremner had actually played Renton in the stage adaptation but agreed to play the role of Spud because he felt “that these characters were part of my heritage.” Boyle had heard about Jonny Lee Miller playing an American in Hackers and was impressed with him when he auditioned by doing a Sean Connery accent. For the role of Begbie, Boyle thought about casting Christopher Eccleston who had been in Shallow Grave but asked Robert Carlyle instead. The actor said, “I’ve met loads of Begbies in my time. Wander round Glasgow on Saturday night and you’ve a good chance of running into Begbie.”

Once cast, Ewan McGregor shaved his head and lost 26 pounds. To research the role, the actor actually considered taking heroin but the more he read and learned about it, the less he wanted to do it. Then, he went to Glasgow and met people from the Carlton Athletic Recovery Group, an organization of recovering heroin addicts. He (and several other cast members) took classes on how to cook up a shot of drugs using glucose powder.

With a budget of $2.5 million, Trainspotting was shot during the summer of 1995 over seven weeks. The cast and crew moved into an abandoned cigarette factory in Glasgow. Due to the rather small budget and limited shooting schedule, most scenes were shot in one take with the effects done practically. For example, when Renton sank into the floor after overdosing on heroin, the crew built a platform above a trap door and lowered actor McGregor down.

When Trainspotting was shown out-of-competition at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival, it received a standing ovation. Once Miramax Films picked it up for North America, Macdonald worked with them to sell the film as a British answer to Pulp Fiction (1994), flooding the market with postcards, posters, books, soundtrack albums, and a revamped music video for Iggy Pop’s’ “Lust for Life” directed by Boyle.

The critical reaction towards Trainspotting was generally very favorable. In the U.K., The Guardian’s Derek Malcolm wrote, “Even so, this is an extraordinary achievement and a breakthrough British film, shot by Brian Tufano with real resource, fashioned more imaginatively than Shallow Grave by Boyle, less determined to please, and acted out with a freedom of expression that's often astonishing.” In his review for Sight and Sound magazine, Philip Kemp wrote, “Following up a critically-acclaimed debut is difficult, but Danny Boyle and his colleagues have cleared that hurdle triumphantly. Trainspotting establishes them beyond any doubt as one of the most dynamic and exciting forces in British cinema.” Empire magazine gave the film five out of five stars and felt that it was, “Something Britain can be proud of and Hollywood must be afraid of. If we Brits can make movies this good about subjects this horrific, what chance does Tinseltown have?”

Stateside, critics also gave the film positive notices. Roger Ebert gave the film three out of four stars and wrote, “It uses a colorful vocabulary, it contains a lot of energy, it elevates its miserable heroes to the status of icons (in their own eyes, that is), and it does evoke the Edinburgh drug landscape with a conviction that seems born of close observation. But what else does it do? Does it lead anywhere? Say anything? Not really. That's the whole point.” The Los Angeles Times’ Kenneth Turan wrote, “And though some of the words get lost in either local slang or thick Scottish accents, the script's most memorable flights invariably go to Renton, devoid of regret or remorse, wised up to the nth degree. His delight in language nicely balances his ruthlessness, and in McGregor … the film has an actor whose magnetism monopolizes our attention no matter what.” Entertainment Weekly gave the film an “A” rating and Owen Gleiberman wrote, “Carlyle, whose mellow good looks make Begbie's short fuse seem all the more treacherous, gives the scariest barroom-psycho performance in years.” In her review for The New York Times, Janet Maslin wrote, “Mr. McGregor underplays Renton to dry perfection without letting viewers lose sight of the character's appeal. Comic timing is everything here, and Mr. Boyle elicits disarmingly droll performances all around.” The Washington Post’s Desson Howe felt it was “Without a doubt, this is the most provocative, enjoyable pop-cultural experience since Pulp Fiction.”

Most of the film’s excellent cast would all go on to bigger things — especially McGregor, Miller and Carlyle who benefited the most by making inroads in North America popular culture through film and television. McGregor is now known to millions as Obi-Wan Kenobi thanks the Star Wars prequels, Miller starred in the short lived ABC show Eli Stone and appeared in the fifth season of Dexter, while Carlyle hit it big with The Full Monty (1997) and played a Bond villain in The World Is Not Enough (1999). Many of the supporting cast members have gone to acclaim, most notably Kelly Macdonald, who played Renton’s girlfriend Diane, who appeared in the Coen brothers Academy Award-winning film No Country for Old Men (2007) and is a regular on the HBO drama Boardwalk Empire. Producer Andrew Macdonald continued his partnership with director Danny Boyle, working together on 28 Days Later (2002) and Sunshine (2007). After the one-two punch of lackluster films, A Life Less Ordinary (1997) and The Beach (2000), screenwriter John Hodge had a falling out with Boyle, but they have since patched things up and collaborated on the upcoming Trance. As for Boyle, he continued trying his hand at various genres before hitting the jackpot with the Academy Award-winning Slumdog Millionaire (2008) in which he won for Best Director.

Trainspotting has aged surprisingly well considering it was one of those zeitgeist-defining movies of the ‘90s. It also set the tone and style of later British exports, opening the floodgates for films like the nasty crime drama Twin Town (1997), the hyperactive rave culture comedy Human Traffic (1999) and the films of Guy Ritchie. In an interview for The Guardian, Boyle said, “Has it dated? I can't tell you that. I am alarmed sometimes by how young the people are who say they've seen and loved Trainspotting, so it might have lost an edge it once had. Shallow Grave looks dated, fashion-wise, but Trainspotting has an abiding style.” Welsh has since written a sequel, entitled Porno, and Boyle has expressed an interest in reuniting the cast but wants to wait until they reach the age of their characters in the novel.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Glengarry Glen Ross

One of the dangers in adapting a stage play into a film is that you won’t be able to break out of the theatricality inherent with so many plays. Fortunately, film director James Foley seemed to be acutely aware of this when he decided to take on Glengarry Glen Ross (1992), an adaptation of David Mamet’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name with the screenplay written by the man himself. Right from the start, Foley keeps things visually interesting by bathing the film in Giallo-esque lighting that would make Dario Argento proud. Cinematographer Juan Ruiz Anchia photographs two salesmen talking in adjoining telephone booths, bathing them in white and blue light respectively with contrasting red in the background. Not only are these colors of the American flag and thereby making a subtle allusion to the notion that this story is a damning indictment of Capitalism, one of the principles that made the United States what it is today. The two men bitch and gripe to each other about the potential clients they have to cold call and then turn on the charm once they get them on the phone. Welcome to Mamet’s cutthroat world of real estate sales populated by desperate, often cruel men that are driven to make as much money as they can, consequences be damned.


One night, an office of down-on-their-luck salesmen are given the pep talk from hell by a ruthless man named Blake (Alec Baldwin), an executive sent by their bosses Mitch and Murray, on a “mission of mercy” as he sarcastically puts it. He starts off by telling them that they’re all fired. They have a week to get their jobs back by selling as much property as they can. He gives them an additional incentive: first prize is a new Cadillac El Dorado, second prize is a set of steak knives and third prize is, as he puts it, “you’re fired.” If the salesmen do well they will get the new Glengarry leads and the promise of better clients and good money.

Blake delivers an absolutely punishing speech as he belittles them (“You call yourself a salesman, you son of a bitch?”), is downright insulting (“You can’t close shit, you are shit! Hit the bricks, pal and beat it because you are going out!”), and demoralizing by even questioning their manhood. He throws in all sorts of “encouraging” words, like “Get them to sign on the line which is dotted,” and “Always be closing.” Alec Baldwin delivers a blistering performance as Blake. His character was not in the original stage play, Mamet wrote him specifically for the film. In his brief amount of screen time, Baldwin dominates the screen against the likes of Ed Harris and Jack Lemmon as he delivers a devastating monologue with ferocious intensity. At one point, Dave Moss (Ed Harris) asks him, “What's your name?” to which Blake replies, “Fuck you! That's my name. You know why, mister? 'Cause you drove a Hyundai to get here tonight. I drove an $80,000 BMW. That's my name.” Blake is an icy motivational speaker that only motivates the salesmen out of fear of being unemployed, making this scene eerily relevant to our times as that is also the prime motivator for most people trying to hold down a job in our current economic climate.

If there was ever a film that deserved an Academy Award for best ensemble cast then this is it. Glengarry Glen Ross features a dream collection of acting heavyweights: Jack Lemmon, Al Pacino, Kevin Spacey, Ed Harris, and Alan Arkin. Pacino plays the slickest salesman of the bunch – Ricky Roma, a smooth-talking, well-dressed bullshit artist of the highest order. This is evident in the scenes where Roma spins an incredibly long and convoluted story, seducing a mild-mannered middle-aged man named James Lingk (Jonathan Pryce). It’s a marvel of acting as we watch Pacino do a spectacular verbal tap dance around the actual pitch until the last possible moment when he’s got the guy’s complete and utter confidence – even then he presents the land he’s pushing as an opportunity as opposed to a purchase, preying on Lingk’s insecurity. It’s a brilliant bit of acting as Pacino commands the scene with his mesmerizing presence. Jonathan Pryce is also excellent as he portrays a weak-willed man susceptible to Roma’s polished charms.

Harris plays Moss as an angry man pissed off at the lousy leads (i.e. clients) and is plotting to defect to a rival, Jerry Graff. George Aaronow (Alan Arkin) is a nervous guy unable to close a sit (pitching a client in person) and seems keen on Moss’ plan to steal the new Glengarry leads and sell them to the competition. John Williamson (Kevin Spacey) is the office manager, a pencil pusher that shows little remorse in what happens to his staff. He’s a smug son-of-a-bitch who takes a particular interest in Shelley "The Machine" Levene’s (Jack Lemmon) plight. Levene is an older salesman trying to make enough money to pay off mounting medical bills for his sick daughter, which colors everything he does.

Levene is a pathetic character desperate to keep his job and still capable of a slick sales pitch (in a nice touch, he often refers to an imaginary secretary named Grace while calling a potential client on the phone), it’s just his judgment that’s off as he finds out with devastating consequences later on in the film. Jack Lemmon somehow manages to make him sympathetic. We see both sides of Levene in a scene where he tries to sell property to a man (Bruce Altman) in his home. The man is not interested and despite Levene's desperate attempts, asks him to leave. It is an increasingly uncomfortable scene that is hard to watch as the man finally and firmly rebuffs Levene. Your heart really goes out to Lemmon's character as he dejectedly walks back out into the pouring rain, looking very much like a drowned rat. It is to Lemmon’s incredible skill as an actor that he makes you care about such a pitiful man

Director Foley successfully transfers Mamet's play to the big screen by creating atmospheric visuals. There is a somber mood that permeates almost every scene. The first half of the film takes place at night during an oppressive rainstorm. Anchia's rich, textured cinematography is the key ingredient in giving Mamet's play a cinematic look. He relied on low lighting and shadows with blues, greens and reds for the first part of the film. The second part adhered to a monochromatic blue-grey color scheme. All the locations are given their own distinctive color scheme, in particular, the hellish red/navy blue of the Chinese restaurant that the salesmen frequent. The overall atmosphere is dark, like that of a film noir.

And then there is Mamet's trademark hard-boiled dialogue or “Mamet speak” as it is known. It has a sharp, staccato quality to it that cuts right to the point with characters often interrupting each other or their dialogue overlapping as evident in the scene where Moss tells Aaronow of his plans to rob their office. One thing that is evident in Glengarry Glen Ross is just how good Mamet is at writing amusing dialogue. For example, at one point, Williamson asks where Roma is to which Moss replies, “Well, I'm not a leash so I don't know, do I?” Mamet’s characters talk like they are thinking about what they are going to say next as they are saying it — much like in real life.

David Mamet’s play was first performed in 1983 at the National Theater of London and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1984. That same year it made its United States debut in the playwright’s hometown of Chicago before moving to Broadway. Shortly thereafter, producer Jerry Tokofsky (Dreamscape) read the play on a trip to New York City in 1985 at the suggestion of director Irvin Kershner who wanted to make it into a film. Tokofsky then saw it on Broadway and contacted Mamet. The playwright wanted $500,000 for the film rights and another $500,000 to write the screenplay to which the producer agreed. Washington, D.C.-based B-movie producer Stanley R. Zupnik was looking for A-list material and co-produced two previous Tokofsky films. Zupnik had seen Glengarry Glen Ross on Broadway and found the plot confusing. He also knew of its reputation in Hollywood as being a commercially difficult project but figured that he and Tokofsky could cut a deal with a cable company.

During this time, Al Pacino and Alec Baldwin became interested in Glengarry Glen Ross but without any concrete financing both Kershner and the actors dropped out for various reasons. Pacino had originally wanted to do the play on Broadway but was doing another Mamet production, American Buffalo, in London at the time. Director James Foley read the script in early 1991 and was hired to direct only to leave the project soon afterwards. By March 1991, Tokofsky contacted Baldwin and practically begged him to reconsider doing the film. The producer remembers, “Alec said: ‘I’ve read 25 scripts and nothing is as good as this. O.K. If you make it, I’ll do it.’” This prompted Foley and Pacino to get back on board with Jack Lemmon agreeing to do it as well. Foley and Pacino arranged an informal reading with Lemmon in Los Angeles. From this point, Foley and Pacino had subsequent readings with several other actors. Lemmon remembers, “Some of the best damn actors you’re ever going to see came in and read and I’m talking about names.” Alan Arkin originally wasn’t interested in doing the film because he didn’t like the character he was asked to portray but fortunately his wife, manager and agent pushed him to do it. Tokofsky’s lawyer called a meeting at the Creative Artists’ Agency, who represented many of the actors involved, and asked for their help. CAA showed little interest but two of their clients – Ed Harris and Kevin Spacey – soon joined the cast.

Due to the uncompromising subject matter and abrasive language, no major studio wanted to finance Glengarry Glen Ross even with actors like Pacino and Lemmon attached. Financing ended up coming from cable and video companies, a German television station, an Australian movie theater chain, several banks, and, finally, New Line Cinema over the course of four years. Because of the film’s modest budget of $12.5 million, many of the actors took significant pay cuts do it. For example, Pacino cut his per-movie price from $6 million to $1.5 million. This didn’t stop other actors, like Robert De Niro, Bruce Willis, Joe Mantegna, and Richard Gere from expressing an interest in the film.

Once the cast was assembled, they spent three weeks in rehearsals. The budget was set at $12.5 million with filming beginning in August 1991 at the Kaufman Astoria soundstage in Queens, New York and on location in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn over 39 days. Ed Harris remembers, “There were five and six-page scenes we would shoot all at once. It was more like doing a play at times [when] you’d get the continuity going.” Arkin said of the script, “What made it [challenging] was the language and the rhythms, which are enormously difficult to absorb.” During principal photography, Tokofsky and his producing partner Zupnik had a falling out over credit for the film. Upon the film’s release, Tokofsky sued to strip Zupnik of his producer’s credit and share of the producer’s fee. Zupnik claimed that he personally put up $2 million of the film’s budget and countersued, claiming that Tokofsky was fired for embezzlement, which seems rather ironic considering the subject matter of the film. To date neither one of them has gone on to produce another film with the lone exception of The Grass Harp in 1995 by Tokofsky.

Glengarry Glen Ross received very positive reviews from most mainstream critics. Roger Ebert gave it three out of four stars and wrote, “There is a duet between Harris and Arkin that is one of the best things Mamet has written. They speculate about the near-legendary ‘good leads’ that Spacey allegedly has locked in his office. What if someone broke into the office and stole the leads? Harris and Arkin discuss it, neither one quite saying out loud what's on his mind.” In his review for The New York Times, Vincent Canby wrote, “Mr. Mamet has the vision of a moralist outside of time. He never nudges the audience toward what it's supposed to think. He also has an evil angel's gift for a spoken language that sounds realistic, but is a kind of shorthand for psychic desperation.” Time magazine’s Richard Corliss wrote, “A peerless ensemble of actors fills Glengarry Glen Ross with audible glares and shudders. The play was a zippy black comedy about predators in twilight; the film is a photo-essay, shot in morgue closeup, about the difficulty most people have convincing themselves that what they do matters.” Entertainment Weekly gave the film an “A” rating and Owen Gleiberman praised Lemmon’s performance: “And Jack Lemmon, an actor I've seldom been able to watch without squirming myself, is a revelation. Lemmon hasn't abandoned his familiar mannerisms — the hammy, ingratiating whine, the tugging-at-the-collar nervousness. This time, though, he trots out his stale actor's gimmicks knowingly, making them a satirical extension of the character's own weariness.” Newsweek magazine’s David Ansen wrote, “Glengarry is a compelling look at one of the closed-out items in the catalog of American dreams.”

In his review for the Chicago Reader, Jonathan Rosenbaum praised Foley’s direction: “Foley's mise en scene is so energetic and purposeful (he's especially adept in using semicircular pans) that the unexpected use of a 'Scope format seems fully justified, even in a drama where lives are resurrected and destroyed according to the value of offscreen pieces of paper.” However, in his review for the Washington Post, Desson Howe was not thrilled with Foley’s contributions: “But director James Foley's attempts to ‘open up’ the play to the outside world are dismal. The play takes place in the salesmen's office and a Chinese restaurant. Foley doesn't add much more than the street between. If his intention is to create a sense of claustrophobia, he also creates the (presumably) unwanted effect of a soundstage. There is no evidence of life outside the immediate world of the movie.”

It takes a certain kind of personality to sell something that people don't need but convincing them that they do. There is a whiff of pathetic desperation to Mamet’s salesmen. It seems like their best days are behind them. It’s a vicious circle of sorts – they can’t get access to new, potentially good clients unless they close some of their old ones and they are all deadbeats. These salesmen will say and do anything to keep their job, which begs the question: is that what it takes to be a good salesperson? Ed Harris believes that the film is “about the evils of the free enterprise system. You’ve got these guys selling bogus real estate and they’re upset because they can’t sell it.” The film is a rather timely one as it addresses tough economic times, something that we are experiencing now. One of the reasons Mamet’s characters have such a hard time selling these properties is because nobody has any money and what they do have they’re holding onto it. First performed on stage in the “Greed is good” 1980s, Glengarry Glen Ross was a scathing indictment of the free enterprise system. The film was made in the early 1990s when the economy was doing well and now it has become relevant once again in the lean and mean post-9/11 New Millennium.