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DOG DAY AFTERNOON
With over seventeen years experience behind the camera, director Sidney Lumet directed this powerful and virtually flawless film that was based on an actual bank robbery that occurred on August 22nd, 1972. The film stars Al Pacino (who had also worked with Lumet in 1973ís SERPICO), who plays Sonny Wortzik, and the late John Cazale as Sal. The film was nominated for Best Picture, Director (Lumet), Actor (Pacino, with his fourth nomination after THE GODFATHER, THE GODFATHER, PART II and SERPICO), Supporting Actor (Chris Sarandon with his sole nomination), and Best Editing. Frank Pierson (who is better known for helping to pen COOL HAND LUKE), won the filmís only Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Though the film was widely received by critics and a huge box-office hit, it didnít stand much of a chance in the year of ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOOíS NEST. No matter, the film remains one of the most taut and gripping dramas ever put on film.
The film starts off with three people planning on pulling a bank heist in Brooklyn one ordinary morning. Though the third man eventually chickens out and decides to leave, Sonny (Pacino), and Sal (Cazale), go through with their plan. Unfortunately for them the tip about the money being dropped off that day was false, and all that is in the vault is a few hundred dollars. Having worked in a bank once before, Sonny knows the procedure for tipping off the cops during a robbery and carefully eyes the woman who gives him the money from the cash machines. However, when he burns the registry book in a garbage can the smoke draws attention from across the street. And before Sonny can do anything else, cops, the media and onlookers surround the entire place. Soon the robbery has turned into a nationwide event, as Sonny and Sal decide to take a dozen or so people in the bank hostage (all women except the bank manager). However, Sonny is gaining public support from the ever growing crowd outside, and when hostage negotiator Moretti calmly draws Sonny outside with the guarantee he will be safe, the crowd make their appreciation of him very clear. Not trusting cops and being a Vietnam vet, he screams to the crows Attica! Attica!, referring an incident in Attica prison when police officers gunned down innocent civilians and prisoners by the NYPD. He is becoming a national hero, and even those he has taken hostage have found their captors somewhat charming (also the thrilled to be part of something this big). However, the crowd turns on him when they learn that Sonny is actually a bisexual and married to a man by the name of Leon (Sonny also has a wife and two kids).
Sonny and Sal eventually strike a deal. For every favor they get, one hostage will be released. However their demands for escape is somewhat deluded, as they demand that a plane be set up to take them to whatever country they desire (Where do you want to go Sonny asks Sal. Wisconsin replies Sal). However, their flight to freedom is cut short as once they get to the airport by way of a van, the officer driving the van shoots down Sal and Sonny arrested.
The film masterfully displays how audiences can be so in tuned to something spectacular without considering the emotional toll it can have for those directly involved. Itís a circus, a freak show and nothing more. Itís strange to see how the audience roots for Pacino in the beginning and then turn on him once the news that he is involved romantically with a man spills out. It goes to show that it isnít a person these people are interested in, but the situation and the hype.
The performances by everyone involved is top notch, from Pacino delivering a performance that is both humorless and heartbreaking, to Cazale giving Sal a very frightening and humane quality. He is subtle and yet has this tremendous presence as someone who is willing to kill at the drop of a hat. Yet there are the moments where he really comes across as sympathetic and even God-fearing, ready to take the lives of those he is holding hostage at Pacinoís say so.
Everything has an authentic feel to it, and the absence of a score helps the film greatly and even gives it a documentary-type of feeling. The mood of the film shifts dramatically, and the film gives us a chance to be both spectator and participator as things progress. Some great scenes include Pacino going to the back of the building where the exit is and looking up at the small window above the barricaded door. We donít see what he sees, but all of a sudden he begins firing his gun towards it as a SWAT officer is attempting to gain access through the window. Itís those scenes that give the film a great touch of paranoia and we reflect off of Pacinoís character.
Lumetís direction is restrained here, and thatís what makes the movie even greater in scope. Instead of having scenes where the broadcast is spread nationwide and having peopleís reaction to it, the film is always focused on the street, in front of the back (some scenes cut over to his wife who does absolutely nothing but chatter on obnoxiously, and though the two characters never share a scene, you can tell why Pacino can be a bit edgy after living with her). Chris Sarandon also serves up a great performance as Pacinoís homosexual lover (again, the two donít share any scenes but speak to each other once on the telephone in a very touching scene). Itís through the characters that know Pacino best do we get an understanding of him. Sensitive yet hot tempered. Lumet directs everything beautifully and with a great understanding of the audience and his characters.
One of the greatest films of all time in my opinion, and the atmosphere, acting, direction, writing and pace are all pitch perfect. So because of that, it deserves a pitch perfect grade. I have absolutely no quandaries about anything the film delivers, and thatís just what it does. It delivers.
My Grade: A++