Movies where the dialogue is the action?
June 17, 2011 7:16 AM   Subscribe

I just watched the movie Glengarry Glen Ross. What I especially enjoyed was how it focused on tight, intense dialogue as opposed to action - whilst managing to remain a compelling, well-paced movie. I love 12 Angry Men for the same reason. With that in mind, I'm looking for recommendations in a similar vein. Compelling, dialogue-driven, almost play-like movies? It does't matter if it's a well-known or obvious choice - I know jack about movies and haven't seen that many.
posted by Ted Maul to Media & Arts (98 answers total) 102 users marked this as a favorite
(note that Glengarry Glen Ross was a play first - leading to that "play-like" quality ;-)
posted by bitdamaged at 7:19 AM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

My Dinner With Andre
A Few Good Men
Reservoir Dogs kinda works too
posted by Dr-Baa at 7:19 AM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Lion In Winter, with Hepburn and O'Toole
posted by runincircles at 7:20 AM on June 17, 2011 [4 favorites]

I adore movies adapted from plays, because they feel like this. So I offer you:

The Lion in Winter
The Night of the Iguana
The House of Yes
The Miracle Worker
The Children's Hour

And you'd probably enjoy Dogville, even though it was not based on a play.
posted by hermitosis at 7:21 AM on June 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

it's rude, crude, but good - Clerks.
posted by scruss at 7:21 AM on June 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

American Buffalo
Sleuth (the original with Michael Caine)
House of Games
posted by jbickers at 7:21 AM on June 17, 2011

The Big Kahuna
Broadcast News
posted by overeducated_alligator at 7:21 AM on June 17, 2011

You may like A Man for All Seasons.
posted by michaelh at 7:22 AM on June 17, 2011

Came in to say Reservoir Dogs.
posted by jbenben at 7:22 AM on June 17, 2011

Ooo, also:

Swimming to Cambodia
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

posted by hermitosis at 7:24 AM on June 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

Swimming to Cambodia is the most riveting hour and a half of a single person talking that you are likely to see.
posted by theodolite at 7:27 AM on June 17, 2011

In Bruges and the short film Six Shooter, both written and directed by the playwright Martin McDonagh.

Also, I like film noir for the same reasons you mention. Maybe try Double Indemnity, The Set-Up, In a Lonely Place and so on.
posted by afx237vi at 7:29 AM on June 17, 2011

Insignificance (1985). The Breakfast Club (1985).
posted by Leon at 7:30 AM on June 17, 2011

I think 12 Angry Men was also originally a play.
posted by atrazine at 7:31 AM on June 17, 2011

I wonder if Good Will Hunting might fit the bill -- there's a lot of excellent dialogue, and the therapy setting means that a lot of the plot development happens through conversation.
posted by cider at 7:32 AM on June 17, 2011

posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 7:33 AM on June 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

The excellent Festen, the first Dogme film, might fit the bill. It was later turned into a stage play.
posted by Magnakai at 7:34 AM on June 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

You might also enjoy some of Kenneth Branagh's film Shakespeare adaptations, particularly Much Ado About Nothing and As You Like It.
posted by paulsc at 7:34 AM on June 17, 2011

Anything written by Aaron Sorkin (who, in addition to his TV/Film screenplays, has written extensively for theatre)

Start with The Social Network. It's good.

The 1952 adaptation of The Importance of Being Earnest is also a pretty fantastic rendition of the play.
posted by schmod at 7:34 AM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

A Few Good Men (which was originally a play)

Also perhaps more questionably:
The Big Lebowski
posted by Jahaza at 7:35 AM on June 17, 2011

There are some TV series like this too.
West Wing
Sports Night
Gilmore Girls
posted by CathyG at 7:36 AM on June 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

This describes almost every movie Eric Rohmer has ever directed.
You could try Claire's Knee and then, if you like it, see all six of the Moral Tales.

Also, look at Whit Stillman's Metropolitan
posted by vacapinta at 7:39 AM on June 17, 2011

I was also thinking of suggesting Branagh's filmed Shakespeares like Paulsc and would also second the A Man For All Seasons recommendation.

Whit Stillman's films (Last Days of Disco, Metropolitan, and Barcelona are intensely dialogue focused, but the dialogue is not so intense (shouty), if you get what I mean.
posted by Jahaza at 7:40 AM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

See what I get for not previewing
posted by Jahaza at 7:41 AM on June 17, 2011

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
posted by rtimmel at 7:41 AM on June 17, 2011 [4 favorites]

posted by dobbs at 7:42 AM on June 17, 2011

Rear Window is almost a moviemaking stunt. It manages to be suspenseful with almost no action.

Moonstruck has very strong dialogue, although not especially play-like.

One from the Heart is one of Coppola's more obscure and weird films. It very explicitly seems like a play that was captured on film, using theatrical effects instead of edits in some places. It was also the basis for SCTV's 3D Steak from the Heart episode.
posted by adamrice at 7:44 AM on June 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

And strongly seconding The Lion in Winter. Just make sure you get the original Peter O'Toole, Katharine Hepburn version. Its far stronger than the Glenn Close, Patrick Stewart remake.
posted by rtimmel at 7:45 AM on June 17, 2011

Miller's Crossing, which is one of my favorite movies ever.
posted by theredpen at 7:47 AM on June 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

Suicide Kings (IMDB says 3.5, Rotten Tomatoes says 1.5 -- obviously I'm more on the IMDB side).
posted by symbioid at 7:48 AM on June 17, 2011

Why don't you go ahead and watch Office Space, mkay?
posted by flabdablet at 7:51 AM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

The Usual Suspects
Noises Off
posted by Confess, Fletch at 7:51 AM on June 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

Brick. Does have some violence, but the dialog is terrific.
posted by elendil71 at 7:52 AM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Sexy Beast and its lesser cousin, 44 Inch Chest.
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:01 AM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Micheal Clayton
posted by effluvia at 8:06 AM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

The Verdict, which David Mamet wrote shortly before Glengarry Glen Ross.
posted by caek at 8:06 AM on June 17, 2011

More by Mamet: The Spanish Prisoner.
posted by davidjmcgee at 8:09 AM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

The movie Rope (Alfred Hitchcock, 1948) is amazing from this perspective. Also based on a play.

Given that what you liked about Glengarry Glen Ross was that "tight, intense dialogue" and great pacing, I would be very surprised if you didn't love Rope.
posted by SantosLHalper at 8:09 AM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think Citizen Kane could be described this way (not surprising given Wells' theatrical background). There is very little action, and the narrative structure of the film is essentially a series of rembered vignettes.
posted by pardonyou? at 8:09 AM on June 17, 2011

Stalag 17 is one of my favorites.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 8:13 AM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Take a look at Hurlyburly, which is fantastic, nearly-all-dialog film.
posted by blindcarboncopy at 8:13 AM on June 17, 2011

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead

A knowledge of Hamlet is helpful as the story sort of entwines around the play, but its pretty much people talking about life and meaning and all the big issues and is intensely dialogue driven and fast paced.
posted by wwax at 8:15 AM on June 17, 2011 [4 favorites]

Also, you might like The Trip, which was originally a BBC mini-series but has been edited down to movie length and is in the cinemas now (I saw Ebert's review yesterday, although I'm not sure how wide the release is). It's basically Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, playing themselves, visiting restaurants in the Lake District, eating and talking.
posted by afx237vi at 8:25 AM on June 17, 2011

You should check out David Mamet's films.
posted by plokent at 8:26 AM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Wow, so many of my personal favorites here! I'll add: Six Degrees of Separation.
posted by likeso at 8:28 AM on June 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

In the Loop has some of the best dialogue in any movies I've seen recently.

Malcolm Tucker: Linton! Linton!

Linton Barwick: Mr Tucker, isn't it? Nice to see you again.

Malcolm Tucker: Are you fucking me about?

Linton Barwick: Is there a problem, Mr Tucker?

Malcolm Tucker: I've just come from a briefing with a nine-year-old child.

Linton Barwick: You're talking about AJ. AJ is one of our top guys. He's a Stanton College Prep, Harvard. One of the brightest and best.

Malcolm Tucker: Well, his briefing notes were written in alphabetti spaghetti. When I left, I nearly tripped up over his fucking umbilical cord.

Linton Barwick: I'm sorry it troubles you that our people achieve excellence at such an early age. But could we just move on to what's important here? Now, I understand that your Prime Minister has asked you to supply us with some, say, fresh British intelligence, is that true?

Malcolm Tucker: Yeah, apparently, your fucking master race of highly-gifted toddlers can't quite get the job done...

Linton Barwick: All right.

Malcolm Tucker: ...between breast feeds and playing with their Power Rangers. So, an actual grown-up has been asked to fucking bail you out.
posted by craven_morhead at 8:28 AM on June 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner takes place in the same house for the majority of the film, focusing on the interpersonal conflict.
posted by Axle at 8:28 AM on June 17, 2011

Talk Radio. It was either adapted from a play or adapted into a play after the film came out, but it's awesome and pretty much entirely dialogue driven.
posted by windbox at 8:32 AM on June 17, 2011

I see a lot of good ones here, but I can't believe no one's mentions Hard Candy yet.

One set (mostly)
Two main actors, and only like 2 extras.
Almost entirely dialogue driven, and still super intense.

I think it fits the criteria at least as well as anything else here.
posted by piedmont at 8:37 AM on June 17, 2011

Witness for the Prosecution
posted by rhizome at 8:39 AM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've found many Robert Altman films have satisfying dialogue and character development...The Big Chill, and Gosford Park are among my favorites.

I would agree that you will probably like most things written by Aaron Sorkin, and also probably many Hitchcock films.
posted by fyrebelley at 8:42 AM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Amadeus, Oleanna, and Proof were all plays first.
posted by Iris Gambol at 8:50 AM on June 17, 2011

Seconding His Girl Friday - the rapid-fire dialogue (allegedly) clocks in at 240 words per minute as opposed to the average 90. That might be an urban myth, but the chatter is so fast and so often overlaps that during production they had to employ a sound man to do a live mix on the fly between different microphones (this being 1940-something, before multitrack recording).

The effect is exhilarating, bordering on exhausting, but almost every line is a corker, partly because Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell were competing like crazy to come up with the best ad-libs, to the extent that Russell secretly hired a writer to supply her with choice one-liners to drop into the script!

It also means the film stands up to multiple repeat viewings: there's no way you'll catch every gag first time.
posted by jack_mo at 8:58 AM on June 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

Sleuth starring Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine. It's a bit like a locked-room mystery, but that's all I'm going to say.
posted by Room 641-A at 8:59 AM on June 17, 2011

Seconding Double Indemnity.
posted by martinrebas at 9:01 AM on June 17, 2011

The Breakfast Club
posted by Confess, Fletch at 9:04 AM on June 17, 2011

Also, you might like Derek Jarman's Edward II. Made on a shoestring, with ultraminimal set design, so it's very like watching (a slightly hamfisted queer theory reading of) the play. And, after Shakespeare, you can't really ask for better dialogue than Marlowe.
posted by jack_mo at 9:05 AM on June 17, 2011

Death and the Maiden
The Business of Strangers

A lot of the work by Hal Hartley and Neil LaBute would also fit this bill I think.
posted by cazoo at 9:06 AM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh! I can't believe no o e recommended Swimming With Sharks. One of my fav Kevin Spacey performances ever:)
posted by jbenben at 9:10 AM on June 17, 2011

posted by Jason and Laszlo at 9:13 AM on June 17, 2011

Anything written by Tennessee Williams - Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. The Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar Named Desire.
posted by Devils Rancher at 9:14 AM on June 17, 2011

The Philadelphia Story
and definitely the West Wing series.
posted by brainmouse at 9:16 AM on June 17, 2011

You must watch John Frankenheimer's version of The Iceman Cometh. Brilliant acting and completely faithful to O'Neill's play. Also, check out Lumet's version of The Fugitive Kind.
posted by perhapses at 9:25 AM on June 17, 2011

Angels in America was a play adapted into an HBO miniseries, and is one of my favorite "dialog" pieces in the whole world.
posted by msali at 9:26 AM on June 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

That should be Lumet's version of Tennessee Williams's play "Orpheus Descending."
posted by perhapses at 9:26 AM on June 17, 2011

Shattered Glass.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:38 AM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think you'd also enjoy "Dog Day Afternoon"
posted by TwoWordReview at 9:43 AM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also -- The Insider.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:46 AM on June 17, 2011

posted by chrisulonic at 10:11 AM on June 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

Previously and previously.
posted by gudrun at 10:23 AM on June 17, 2011

based on plays: not based on plays but dialogue-heavy and playlike:
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:32 AM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

posted by shakespeherian at 10:36 AM on June 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

In The Company of Men

This is possibly completely wrong, but the movie is all about the dialogue. And the music: This Is Spinal Tap
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 10:39 AM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Educating Rita
Secrets and Lies
After Hours

Also, probably not what you had in mind, but Grosse Point Blank has amazing dialogue that really takes what's happening to a further insane level.
posted by Mchelly at 10:48 AM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

When I think about compelling, dialogue-driven, almost play-like movies, I immediately think -- "what about zombies." And thus, Pontypool is my next suggestion.
posted by rtimmel at 10:51 AM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

And since I seem compelled to make consecutive posts today, here is the Pontypool radio broadcast by the BBC, if you prefer just to listen.
posted by rtimmel at 10:55 AM on June 17, 2011

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip is another Sorkin project.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The dialog/narration is a wild, twisting, psychedelic, hilarious trip.
The Third Man. Another movie with Orson Welles.
Oh Brother where art thou?
Intolerable Cruelty. These are both Coen Bro's films. Witty, fast-paced, dialog.
posted by hot_monster at 10:56 AM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Nthing Gosford Park. Yes, there's a murder without which the plot couldn't move forward, but as Altman said in one of the behind-the-scenes interviews, "It's less a whodunit and more a thatitwasdone kind of movie."
posted by Lexica at 1:00 PM on June 17, 2011

Barton Fink has action and violence but the dialog is great and there is lot of it. I would say the same of Barry Lyndon.
posted by Splunge at 1:40 PM on June 17, 2011

Check out David O. Russell, who owes alot to Preston Sturges. Also anything by P.T. Anderson.

Neither are necessarily "play-like" but both have a knack for dialogue.
posted by vecchio at 1:57 PM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Most of these have been mentioned, but some of my favorite dialogue-driven films that affect me in a similar way to Glengarry Glen Ross:

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Talk Radio
The Breakfast Club
The Conversation
posted by Pants McCracky at 1:58 PM on June 17, 2011

I think you might like the movie Big Night with Stanley Tucci and Tony Shalhoub. It takes place almost entirely in a restaurant and mostly during the preparation (not acted-out fake-food fake preparation!) of a spectacular meal. Very little in the way of "action," mostly talking and cooking.
posted by kostia at 4:40 PM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

The Sunset Limited (2011)
posted by stuph at 6:15 PM on June 17, 2011

This might seem out of place, but if I recall, Crimson Tide (Denzel Washington, Gene Hackman, James Gandolfini, Viggo Mortensen, and a ton of other actores) was adapted from a play, and features some pretty spectacular exchanges of dialogue.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:19 PM on June 17, 2011

I would include PULP FICTION though maybe I'm wrong.

posted by DMelanogaster at 7:04 PM on June 17, 2011

The Women (the 1939 version; don't even bother with the 2008 remake). It was based on a play by Claire Booth Luce. The entire cast is female (which pretty much drives the story line) and the dialogue is very clever and very fast. In fact, it's fast enough that you'll probably have to stop and replay a lot of it or you'll get lost and miss some wonderful bon mots.
posted by fuse theorem at 7:21 PM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Nthing the Hepburn-O'Toole Lion in Winter. Also nthing Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?.
posted by Orinda at 8:52 PM on June 17, 2011

Seconding Grosse Pointe Blank. The first time I saw it, it was pretty good, but I couldn't hear all the dialogue. The next time I saw it the dialogue knocked me dead. John Cusack was a co-writer and he's a really clever, funny dialogueist (is that a word?).
posted by bendy at 10:56 PM on June 17, 2011

also based on a play (i think): Lions for Lambs

You might want to look at some directors early films, as they don't have the budget for good locations, actors and special effects so they usually have to rely on excellent dialogue: e.g. clerks; sex, lies and videotape; dazed and confused; slacker; etc...
posted by gonzo_ID at 10:00 AM on June 18, 2011

Since nobody else has, I'd like to give a strong second to In The Loop mentioned above, and also to "The Thick of It," the BBC TV series on which it's based. Both of them have wonderful dialogue exchanges, and Malcolm Tucker is one of the best antagonists I've seen in recent memory.

In addition, I'd recommend Michael Clayton and out of Tarantino's films I'd say Inglourious Basterds arguably fits your criteria more than Reservoir Dogs. The best scenes in Inglourious Basterds are the ones where characters are just sitting across from each other at tables and talking to each other, there is action but it really is secondary to the dialogue.
posted by C^3 at 10:15 AM on June 18, 2011

Another previously: Recommendations for dialogue-heavy films a la Glengarry Glen Ross?

I'll repeat a recommendation for films by John Sayles, especially Lone Star, and the amazing dialogue-driven character studies by Mike Leigh - start with either the beautiful Secrets and Lies (also see Ebert's later appreciation, including info about Leigh's method for getting realistic dialogue) or the bleak, unforgettable Naked.
posted by mediareport at 6:16 AM on June 19, 2011

posted by greasepig at 7:58 PM on June 19, 2011

State and Main is also by Mamet and really good.
posted by getawaysticks at 8:30 AM on June 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

I know there's been a lot of David Mamet suggestions already, but I had to mention The Winslow Boy. Directed by Mamet, adapted from a play by Terence Rattigan. It's not only dialogue-driven, it's also a legal drama where all the courtroom activity happens off-camera.
posted by mokin at 4:31 PM on June 20, 2011

posted by hubs at 3:06 PM on June 22, 2011

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