Act I Four real estate salesmen, Ricky Roma (Al Pacino), Shelley Levene (Jack Lemmon), Dave Moss (Ed Harris), and George Aaronow (Alan Arkin), work in the offices of Premiere Properties, Chicago. The salesmen act more as con artists, lying about their identities and circumstances, in selling parcels of land in Florida and Arizona to customers, many of whom are uninterested or unable to afford a real estate investment. They rely on leads, information of potential customers, provided to them by office manager John Williamson (Kevin Spacey). The leads are purchased by their unseen bosses Mitch and Murray.
A sales meeting is held by Blake (Alec Baldwin)—a salesman “from downtown”. In a profanity-laden tirade, he chastises the salesmen for their lack of sales and questions their manhood. Blake reveals that, in addition to the month’s sale contest (whose winner and first runner-up receive a new Cadillac and a set of steak knives respectively), the bottom two salesmen will be fired. He stresses the mantra “ABC–Always Be Closing” and reveals that a valuable set of leads, the “Glengarry leads”, have arrived, but they will not be distributed to salesmen of their caliber. After Blake leaves, the salesmen split up for the rest of the evening.
Levene: Shelley “The Machine” Levene was once a brilliant salesman, but has since fallen into a rut implied to be lasting months, perhaps even years. Adding to Levene’s plight is that fact his daughter is sick in the hospital with an unspecified illness. After the others leave, Levene attempts to secure one of the premiere leads from Williamson, who refuses on account of his recent sales record. Levene persists, first charming, then insulting, and finally bribing Williamson by offering him a part of his sales commission. Williamson agrees to 20 percent of the commission plus $50 per lead, but reneges on the deal when Levene is unable to pay upfront. Forced to leave with no good leads, Levene goes cold calling to a customer named Larry Spannel, but fails to close. Throughout the night, Levene is seen conversing on the phone with another lead, a couple named Bruce and Harriett Nyborg.
Moss and Aaronow: Moss and Aaronow go out together on an unsuccessful sale. Throughout their trip, an incensed Moss rants to a passive Aaronow about the state of affairs with the company, complaining about the business model where the top leads goes to the most successful salesmen and how Mitch and Murray take 90 percent of their sale. Upon returning to the Chinese restaurant across from the office, Moss proposes that someone strike back against Mitch and Murray by stealing the Glengarry leads and selling them to Jerry Graf, a colleague who has done well in his own business. Aaronow correctly deduces that Moss has indeed discussed an endeavor with Graf. Moss offers to let Aaronow in on the deal, which includes $2,500 and a job with Graf. The latter expresses interest, but balks when Moss tells him he must be the one to break into the office and steal the leads, and it must be done that night. Aaronow tries to remove himself from the topic, but Moss says he is already an accessory to the crime, simply because he listened.
Roma: Richard “Ricky” Roma is by far the top salesman in the office. Rather than attend Blake’s meeting, Roma instead stays at the Chinese restaurant, where he meets and converses with a timid man named James Lingk. Roma wows Lingk with philosophical monologues and puts him at ease, not once even mentioning real estate until the end of the scene. Convincing Lingk to be more outgoing with his life, Roma presents him literature about land in Florida.
Act II The next morning, it’s revealed the office has been broken into. Leads and the salesmen’s phones have been stolen. Police are on the scene and a detective is set to interview each of the salesmen. Roma arrives and pesters Williamson about the status of his latest sales contract, that of James Lingk’s. Williamson says it has been filed at the bank, leading Roma to declare himself the winner of the Cadillac, since this sale puts him “over the top”. Roma further insults Williamson by refusing to act on old leads. He then goes on to ease Aaronow, who is nervous about talking to the detective.
An overjoyed Levene arrives, announcing he has closed an $82,000 sale with the Nyborgs. While Roma is eager to hear Levene’s story, a furious Moss, emerging from his interview with the detective, expresses only vitriol. Roma reminds Moss that he hasn’t made a big sale in a month, causing Moss to furiously curse Roma out and storm out of the office, declaring he is “going to Wisconsin”. Levene finishes his story to Roma, who congratulates him on his sale.
Energized with the close, Levene demands new leads and insults Williamson, who is left speechless. Roma, seeing Lingk arrive at the office, has Levene pose as his client and tries to usher him off to the airport to avoid a discussion. Lingk reveals that his wife told him to ask for his check back and that she has threatened to call the state’s attorney. After a hysterical Aaronow emerges from his interview, Roma tries to put Lingk’s mind at ease, eventually convincing him to get a drink and that his check has not been cashed yet. However, the ruse is ruined when Williamson (who erroneously believed that Lingk was worried about whether his check was stolen) claims that the check is already at the bank and has been cashed. A distressed Lingk leaves, causing Roma to launch into a profanity-laden tirade against him before going into his interview.
Levene piles onto Williamson, ending his own rant by telling him “if you’re going to make something up, be sure that it helps”. Williamson realizes that Levene knows that the Lingk contract was still on his desk, something only the one who robbed the office would know. Confronted by Williamson, Levene denies the accusation at first, but eventually reveals he sold the leads to Jerry Graf, working with Moss. When Williamson nonetheless threatens to go to the police, Levene tries once more to charm and bribe his way out of the situation. He offers Williamson his entire cut from the Graf deal, which is rejected. When he offers a bigger cut of his commission, citing his new sale, Williamson reveals that the Nyborgs are mentally ill and unable to afford such pricy real estate and that “they just like talking to salesmen”. Levene makes one last plea by mentioning his daughter, but Williamson coldly rebuffs him.
Unaware of what’s transpired, Roma emerges from his interrogation and praises Levene for his acting during the Lingk situation. He proposes that he and Levene enter business together. As Roma makes a call on a newly installed phone, Levene is called in by the detective. He tries to say something to Roma, who is entrenched in his call. Defeated, Levene walks into the office. While Roma goes off to the restaurant, Aaronow starts making his sales calls.