Dog Day Afternoon depicts a failed bank robbery attempt that escalates into a media freak show.
Dog Day Afternoon is simply put, an incredible film. Sorry, I had to get that out straightaway. Now this one is really a masterpiece. Admittedly, I actually went in with low expectations (despite positive reviews and Al Pacino) because I thought the plot sounded boring, but I couldn’t be more wrong. Every moment and detail of this film is perfect, from the brilliantly crafted atmosphere, to the fascinating characters, and the really great script that very effectively blends the dramatic and comic elements together. It’s without a doubt one of the best bank heist films I’ve watched, despite it being a fairly unconventional one.
In my opinion, Sidney Lumet is a very good, though inconsistent director (The Morning After LOL) whose strength seems to be in making satirical films like Network. His direction here is simply great. Although 90% of the film is shot within the bank, I really felt the atmosphere of the film getting increasingly hopeless, depressing and claustrophobic as the story developed, almost as if I could feel the stuffiness of the bank. The brilliance in the screenplay is displayed very naturally (same with the atmosphere), giving the film a very realistic and gritty tone despite the comic scenes that could have been played weirdly. I mean, the scene where Sonny rouses the crowd (“Attica! Attica!”) could have been terribly awkward under a lesser director and actor, but for some reason it just works incredibly here and even ends up being bizarrely hilarious. The claustrophobic interiors of the bank is very well contrasted with what’s going on outside, with the crowd getting larger, and the police surrounding the building becoming increasingly oppressive. The movie also reflects so many issues of at that time, such as the Attica prison riot (anti-establishment, anti law enforcement, the poor state of prisoners), war veteran problems, union jobs, homosexuality etc…I’m not familiar with all of them unfortunately, but even so, it is amazing how so much was addressed and how well the people’s sentiments towards these issues can really be felt, despite the film being primarily set in the bank.
What I love the most here is probably the dialogue. Fantastic, I tell you. Blending drama and comedy together can be quite messy as proven by a few films of late, but this one really worked. I mean, it can go from being absolutely hilarious…
Sonny: Kiss me.
Det. Sgt. Eugene Moretti: What?
Sonny: Kiss me. When I’m being fucked, I like to get kissed a lot.
Pizza Boy: [while delivering pizzas to Sonny and Sal] I’m a fucking star!
…to heartbreakingly sad the next moment, such as when Sonny writes his farewell note.
The characters are all so fascinating, be it the neurotic, but ultimately well-intentioned Sonny, his disturbed accomplice Sal or even the bumbling Detective Moretti, whom unlike his superiors, merely wants to resolve the situation in a peaceful manner. I must also give a special mention to Sylvia, the head teller (played by Penelope Allen) who acts as a mother figure to the other ladies, and is also memorably funny at times, like when she excitedly tells the girls she got interviewed LOL. The actors were fantastic, and I really wished the late John Cazale was recognized for this performance before his early death :(. His Sal is such an interesting and intense character that is a stark contrast to Sonny’s loud personality, and Cazale showed the character’s extreme fear of returning to prison very well, making you feel sympathetic towards him. I guess the fact that his role is a non flashy one resulted in Chris Sarandon (who is also excellent) being nominated over him.
At the end of the day, it’s really Al Pacino who steals the limelight (for me at least). I mean, this was really The Al Pacino movie, not unlike how Sonny was running the show. The movie had the right script and director and all, but I really felt that it was his incredible performance that tied everything together. His Sonny is such an amazing and original creation, right from that voice, to the strangely charismatic way he galvanizes the crowd to shout “Attica!”. Like I said, he was the “host” of the show. The character is very complex actually, but Pacino layered his performance so well that I could see every side to his character, from Sonny’s incompetence as a “robber”, his fears and insecurities, the neurotic behavior and the vulnerable moments. I mean, the dialogue with his lover was unexpectedly tender. And of course, the unbelievable ending scene, where he communicated the pain and sadness of Sonny without even saying one word. It’s an astounding performance by a true master, and I even consider this his best ever (yes, I’ve watched The Godfather trilogy). WHY he would choose to do that Jack and Jill “dunkachino” bullshit is beyond me, but I guess that’s Hollywood for you the moment you outlive your prime.
A truly incredible film. 5/5.