“You think I’m fucking with you; I’m not fucking with you.”
Just a curt flick of his tongue and Hollywood’s golden boy has your attention. This is no hyperbole. Search your mind and truly ponder this thought: has there been a more emphatic and clear definition of a “scene-stealer” than Blake? Alec Baldwin’s Blake is a powerhouse that moves, weaves, and stabs in less than 500 seconds, a transitory timeframe which nonetheless enables him to terrify and even mock the foundations of business and masculinity.
Rumour has it that in 1983, David Mamet sent a draft copy of the original stage version of Glengarry Glen Ross to his friend and idol Harold Pinter, noting it might be too brief. Pinter’s reply: “It’s perfect. Stage it.” A timeless contemporary ensemble piece, awarded the Pulitzer Prize in ’84, it’s clear why New Line fancied the cinematic adaptation. The work depicts two days in the lives of four real-estate salesmen who, supplied with leads, regularly use underhanded and dishonest tactics to make any form of sale. However, the leads rationed out by office manager John Williamson (Kevin Spacey) lack either the money or desire to actually invest in land. Enter Alec Baldwin.
It’s eight minutes fifteen seconds in when Mitch and Murray’s motivator Blake (Baldwin) becomes the ultimate cameo. He invades, delivering fire and brimstone, in the hope of deriving some form of revenue from these prostrate salesman. His bile-ridden, relentless domination of these apparent saps is awe-inspiring in both gravitas and shock. Blake’s ease – nay, satisfaction – in his choleric motivation establishes how he’s done this time and time again, moving from office to office, and disembowelling hope from the hearts of men who simply aim to grasp their own chunk of the ultimate Dream. When faced with a pseudo-emblematic American Eagle, the feeble salesmen buckle under Blake’s stature and scrutiny, becoming mere dots below (think Harry Lime from The Third Man).
The presence, gravitas and sheer talent on display is incredible. Some may forget his acting skill due to his recent outspoken moments and missteps plastered on gossip sites and social media; Glengarry Glen Ross is the irrepressible acme of Baldwin’s career. Further polish is bestowed to the film considering Mamet’s script and the ensemble that dreams are made of (Al Pacino, Kevin Spacey, Alan Arkin, Jonathan Pryce, Ed Harris, Jack Lemmon). A lesser actor might have become background colour, a simple signpost for the opening exposition. In the hands of Baldwin the role evolves into something iconic.
In the 22 years since its debut, Baldwin’s performance has transcended the film to act as one of the leading individual inspirational speeches for salesman around the world. Echoed and etched into the minds of high flyers, Blake’s power, presence and mantra can encourage (see: frighten) the meekest of individuals into action. However, to admire the performance solely for the shock and utter braggadocio, which has inspired scores of salesmen to use words such as “crush” and “balls”, misconstrues Baldwin’s true artistry. Far from inspirational, Baldwin is a monument to the “glory” and emptiness of the American Dream.
Let’s break it down. The story of Glengarry Glen Ross is of a poorly-run sales company on its way out of business. Blake’s purpose is to somehow muster results from this selection of fallen men with the parent company desperate for results. Blake projects blame and failure upon the dejected collection yet no solution is presented. Blake never accepts criticism, merely retorting with insults “The leads are weak? Fucking leads are weak. You’re weak.” His bombast aims to overcome the “facts” as he and the company hope for results, revenue and success – not questions, or valid critiques.
By the movie’s close, the sales manager Williamson (Spacey) cruelly reveals to the desperate Levene (a sensational performance from the late Lemmon) that the deal he just closed was with a known delusional couple who just like to talk to salesmen and are completely bankrupt. The “leads” are nothing but empty trash. Blake’s role not only arrests your attention for the opening act, Baldwin’s scene-stealing role defines the whole movie. He offers no refuge or support; just anger and bile. The ideas of motivation and hope become devoid of meaning, leaving the men in consuming darkness with hollowed-out souls. The Dream was never theirs to own.
Fascinatingly, the character Blake does not feature in the play version. However, having witnessed Baldwin’s magnificence, it’s impossible to imagine the narrative without him. Pacino’s violent and gorgeous rant at the film’s conclusion is hard to forget but the film will be forever noted by Baldwin’s tour-de-force opening. Blake’s ferocity and unobvious nuance defines the tone, the characters and the film.
Read the following excerpt of Mamet’s terrific script as you join Blake halfway through his ‘motivational’ speech:
“That watch costs more than your car. I made $970,000 last year. How much’d you make? You see pal, that’s who I am, and you’re nothing. Nice guy? I don’t give a shit. Good father? Fuck you! Go home and play with your kids. You wanna work here – close! You think this is abuse? You think this is abuse, you cocksucker? You can’t take this, how can you take the abuse you get on a sit? You don’t like it, leave.”
The words alone are of a quality this writer can never aspire to, and there’s little more to do than marvel at them. Now imagine them in the hands of a remarkable actor at the height of his game. Even for those who have yet to witness Glengarry Glen Ross, all film lovers would salivate at the prospect. This is an equal parts enjoyable and terrifying behemoth of a performance that shall be imprinted within the annals of cinematic history.