Dog Day Afternoon
Dog Day Afternoon is a perfect film. Based on true events, it follows the day long ordeal of two men, Sonny and Sal (Al Pacino and John Cazale) whose botched bank robbery forces them to take workers hostage. The cops quickly swarm the bank outside and attempt to reason with Sonny to let the hostages go safely, but Sonny begins to devise a plan that would get both him and Sal safely away without going to jail (or getting killed). In what would now be considered a cliche development, the public outside begins to slowly turn in Sonny's favor, mainly due to Sonny's rallying cry of "Attica! Attica!", referencing the prison riot in 1971 where inmates took hostages in order to demand better living conditions, leading to the discovery that police killed several innocent hostages while storming the prison to take back control. With the media joining the police and the public citizens outside the bank, tensions rise on both sides as the police and Sonny attempt to resolve the situation as quickly as possible without any bloodshed.
Everything about this movie is stunning and comes together to make one of the best American movies from that mythical era of the 1970s. Dog Day Afternoon was rightfully nominated for 6 Academy Awards in 1976, with the one win going to Frank Pierson for Best Original Screenplay. It's not hard to see why he won, considering how perfectly the script allows the situation to escalate naturally. It's been said that some of the more memorable moments were in fact due to improvisation, but dialog is only a small aspect of a script. Pierson laid all the pieces in order, making it so not one scene feels wasted in this two hour film. Director Sidney Lumet also deserves high praise. Lumet had already proven himself as a great director 18 years prior with 12 Angry Men, but in Dog Day Afternoon he really shows just how much of a handle he has on a storytelling, especially within such a static location.
The one other thing worth mentioning though is Al Pacino. It can be debated whether his work here or in the Godfather films is superior, but doing so would be splitting hairs. Pacino continues his amazing run of performances from the 70s with his portrayal of Sonny. It's one of the rare instances of a great performance where you actually forget you are watching an actor and simply get lost in the role. While watching Dog Day Afternoon, I wasn't watching Al Pacino play Sonny, I was simply watching a real character on the screen. It's a subtle difference and very hard to pull off but Pacino nails it. He's never too over-the-top and when he does raise his voice, (such as the phone conversation with his wife) it's such a raw and powerful moment that it left me momentarily stunned. It also a very bold choice for Pacino to take this role at this stage in his career, and luckily it paid off.
There is so much more I could go into but for anyone who stumbles upon this* without seeing the movie, I don't want to spoil all the wonderful moments this movie has to offer. From the fast-paced opening (we don't waste anytime seeing them setup for the robbery) to the stunning conclusion, Dog Day Afternoon is a great film. Movies are at their best when you want to go out and talk to everyone about that movie the second it fades to black, and this is one of those films. It's unfortunate I'm finally seeing it now whereas to most people the movie will be a distant (but bright) memory, but I'm still glad to have finally watched it.
Valuable Life Lesson Learned: Wyoming is not a country.
- The Magnificent Ambersons
- The Untouchables
- Battle Royale
*I'm sorry to have wasted your time.