DOASKDOTELL MOVIE REVIEW of Diamond Men, 100 Mile Rule, Glengarry Glen Ross, Big FishIn Good Company , Salesman, Death of a Salesman

Title:  Diamond Men

Release Date:  2000/2002

Nationality and Language: USA, Emglish

Running time: 100 Minutes

MPAA Rating:  Not given (NC-17)

Distributor and Production Company:  DMC

Director; Writer:  Daniel M. Cohen

Producer:  Daniel M. Cohen

Cast:  Robert Forster, Donnie Wahlberg, Bess Armstrong, Jasmine Guy

Technical:

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Review:

Once again, it is a pleasure to see an small independent film, shot entirely on location, this time in Pennsylvania, with the careful attention to details that engages one and invokes “real life.”

The film starts as Eddie Miller (Robert Forster) croaks with a heart attack in a parking lot, and three months later is told my his boss that he must be terminated from his job as a traveling diamond salesman because, with his health compromised, the employer’s insurance company will no longer underwrite the protection of his booty when he goes on the road. He bangs on the desk and begs for his job (he’ll get a begrudging severance) and his boss agrees to let him train a replacement, Bobby Walker (Donnie Wahlberg) and then, they’ll see .. kind of like not wanting to fail a grade.

Well, Bobby shows up with a fire-engine red sports car… he has a lot to learn, very cocky, all right. Eddie is pretty disgusted with Bobby’s impudence. They go from town to town and stay in cheap motels so as not to attract the attention of thieves. And the company insists that they share motel rooms. Well, in discussing the military gay ban I talked about forced intimacy on the road in civilian jobs (like in DeMuth v. Miller). So Donnie starts bringing girls into the motel and, after blowing it with premature ejaculations, starts getting Eddie out of his shell—he had lost his wife to cancer. Eventually they start visiting massage parlor, a best little whorehouse in Pennsylvania. It gets weird. One of the girls has a Cyclops-like eye tattooed on her chest (it actually moves) and Eddie runs out as she puts on a dental dam. But he gets better when he meets the new-age Katie (Bess Armstrong).  The plot then takes some predictable and then unpredictable turns as Eddie solves his problems. Literary plot doctors will like the ending. (Although I have heard some critics say that the ending is not foreshadowed or set up with the characters.)

The movie gets really intimate and close-up. Like when Bess gives Eddie a massage, you see his shiny calves… she comments on how muscular they are and evades mentioning how he has obviously gone bald on the legs with aging.

My own father was a traveling manufacturer’s representative for Imperial Glass, and his territory included these same towns in Pennsylvania, and in 1971 he was forced to retire (at age 68) because of his age. They replaced him with a younger man.

The diamond business is a very tense one. It played a role in the novel and film Marathon Man. (Is it safe?) I knew a bartender at Boots ‘N’ Saddle in New York in 1978 who had been fired and blackballed from the diamond business for being gay.

For more about the global political problems of the diamond business, see the review of Blood Diamond (link below).

This little gem reminds me of Jerome’s Razor, a regional film, all on location, with all too human characters (with the younger ones rather charismatic), natural dialogue, and a close-up intensity.

Donnie Wahlberg (Marky Mark’s brother) brings tremendous enthusiasm and virility to his role in this film.

Another film that satirizes sales culture, this time in more overtly comic fashion, 100 Mile Rule (2002, Honeydo), produced by Eric Gustafson and John Nelson, directed by Brent Huff, written by Drew Pillsburg, with Jake Webber, Maria Bello, David Thornton, Michael McKean, Nick Chinlund. Three businessmen go away from their family lives in suburban Michigan to a sales conference in LA. Jerry talks about a “100 Mile Rule,” which means you can do what you want (with women) when more than 100 miles from home. Bobby (Jake Webber) is the honest family man who seems like he ought to be a charismatic figure, too. Is that why he is in sales? There are more honorable professions, and he seems a bit mild-mannered (and has a sensitive stomach), but you still want to work for him. Well, the movie gets to making fun of sales culture (perhaps with lessons applicable to cheesy telemarketing) pretty quickly with slogans like “Always Be Closing” and “Repeat, Repeat, Repeat.”  In another scene the instructor berates the attendees about how much they make, as if that were a measure of sexual potency. (Remember the balls-crushing of Glengarry Glen Ross?) Which begs a major point. People who get wealthy on sales, at least in this film, come across as parasites who siphon off the work of others (like parasites, in leftwing speak) in the partial volume refunds of pyramid schemes, people who do not have ideas of their own but who only peddle the work of others, in total ignorance of the truth or objectivity. (They don’t have the right to get published, then.)  It is for people who can’t make it in physical chemistry or who can’t figure out how computers work. Well, it turns quickly into a satire of heterosexuality itself. Bobby falls, his only lightly haired and vulnerable chest too vulnerable to the potential groping of cocktail waitress Monica, just once (that’s all it takes to wind up paying alimony), and soon winds up in a comic chase with extortion and a moving corpse, a la Hitchcock. (The Trouble with Harry…)  Don’t worry, the company (“National Screw”) would pay the expenses, or at least bury them. The Internet “Google problem” figures cleverly into the plot. (www.showme.ifno). By the way, cocktail waitressing is real work, face-paced, regimented. Maybe Monica would make a good bill collector. Well, the screenplay tells an engaging, funny yet straightforward story while making its social points. That’s good screenwriting. Why can’t we all do that?

If this movie finds a major corporate distributor, it will make big $$$. Miramax, Fox Searchlight, Lions Gate, and New Market ought to bid on this one.

Salesman (1968, Janus, dir. Albert and David Maysles, 90 min), a "direct cinema" (or "cinema verite) look at four Bible salesmen. Blogger.  

Glengarry Glen Ross (1992, New Line Cinema, dir. James Foley, wr. David Mamet, based on his own play, R, 100 min), referred to above, is of course the ultimate satire of sales culture, in this case real estate sales, where people are driven into constant hucksterism for fear not only of being fired but of psychic emasculation. The notions of extroverted virility are well presented by the cast: Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, and hairy man Alec Baldwin.

Columbia has experimented in the arthouse comedy-fantasy genre about the traveling salesman theme with Big Fish, directed by Tim Burton and based on a novel by Daniel Wallace. Here Edward Bloom (Albert Finney) spins tall tales for his son (Billy Crudup) about his days as a traveling salesman throughout the South, with Alabama as his base. There is a feast of characters and scenes that make this another kind of “The Odyssey.”  Here pictures tell the story much more than words, and the film needed a wide-screen format. Evan McGregor plays young Edward and tends to look older than his years, maybe because leaches attacked his legs. There is a great scene where he is an accidental accomplice to a bank robbery (Steve Buscemi playing Norther Winslow) where there is a bit about Texas real estate scandals, that would occur 30 years later again. Of course, what’s interesting is that a salesman has to be flamboyant and Trump-like enough to become a Big Fish, quite literally at his postmortem baptism. The film is a romp. (In the opening sequence a baby is expelled from a womb and slides across a waxed hospital floor.) Always be closing.

Another film about sales culture is Universal’s mainstream In Good Company (2005, dir. Paul Weitz, 131 min, PG-13. It reminds me a bit of the 1987 film Wall Street with Michael Douglas (“Greed is good!”). And Chris Weitz (who played the “masculine guy” in Chuck and Buck) is paired up with Paul as an executive producer. Now the story is safe and formulaic even in its variations on familiar themes and screenplay turning points. Here Dan Foreman, and a 52-year-old advertising executive, finds himself demoted after a corporate merger (perhaps an 80s style Irwin Jacobs-like hostile takeover) as he reports to a 26-year-old Carter Duryea (Topher Grace), whose boyish skin rather shines.  Dan is a dedicated Family Man, and his 51-year-old wife is actually having a baby, and his teenage daughter “needs” the first rate education at NYU.  Now one twist is that Carter, after a divorce, will fall for Dan’s college freshman daughter Alex (Scarlet Johansson). In fact, their bedroom scene with the too-boyish Carter’s upper body undressing almost seems like a gay scene, heterosexual in name only. But more twists occur as Carter’s company gets taken over again. Dan’s sales techniques are well developed, based on long-standing relationships and “synergy” with existing customers.  The film is stereotyped enemy-Hollywood, yet it rather works as Carter grows as a character during the film and becomes a man. His word choice improves, as does his wisdom, as when he explains in a bar that he doesn’t fire Dan because “people need you.” There are several firing scenes, but the way they happen in real life (with the computer turning off your account while you work) is even more interesting.

Death of a Salesman (1985, CBS, dir. Volker Schlondorff, 135 min) is a television literal rendition of Arthur Miller’s play. Dustin Hoffman plays Willy Loman, a 60-year-old salesman whose career is ending (he tries to get a home job and then is fired). His wife (Kate Reid) is disappointed with their two freeloading sons (Biff, with a riveting performance by a young John Makovich, and Harold (Stephen Lang). Presumably they could help the family out (as was expected by family solidarity and filial responsibility in these pre New Deal days), but they have bummed along themselves. There is a great confrontation between Biff and his dad at the end, when Biff cries “I am nothing. I am just what I am.” Then there is catastrophe, and Eternity.  Earlier dad makes multiple prejudicial statements, like “I am who can’t handle tools is not a man.” That’s probably what my own father believed.  The play does not question sales culture and pit it off against creativity as much as it could, although John Makovich tries to bring that out with his acting of Biff’s part. “Willy was a salesman…”

Nick of Time (1995); Nixon (1995); The Assassination of Richard Nixon (2004) (and The Plot to Kill Nixon); Death of a President (2006); May 6th (2004); Submission (2004, short; Have a Good Weekend in Spite of Everything (2005)), The Prisoner or: How I  Planned to Kill Tony Blair (2007) were all moved to the hyperlink shown here.

 

Related reviews: Jerome’s Razor   The Men Who Killed Kennedy   Blood Diamond  Shooter  The Assassination of Richard Nixon

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