Dog Day Afternoon (1975), Cert 15.

Director - Sidney Lumet.

Writer - P. F. Kluge.

Starring - Al Pacino, John Cazale, Charles Durning & Lance Henriksen.

 

Premise - When Sonny (Al Pacino) and Sal (John Cazale) decide to rob a small bank in Brooklyn New York, little do they realise that it will turn into a hostage situation and a media circus.

Based on actual events, Dog Day Afternoon tackles the issues of media and instant celebrity long before 'Natural Born Killers' was even a twinkle in Quentin Tarantino's eye. Sure, it doesn't delve too deeply into the issue, but it does address it and that is to be commended for a film from 1975 when this phenomenon was in its infancy (No OJ yet).

Not to say that Dog Day afternoon is a 'preachy' film. Like I say, it touches on this issue, but is not overwhelmed by hammering a message home to the audience. Rather the film is the story of one hot day in the life of Sonny. Sonny is a married man with children, whom we learn is robbing the bank to pay for his gay loverís sex change operation.

A strange turn of events to be sure and all the more compelling because the film is a true story. The movie starts off simple enough, Sonny and Sal start the robbery, but through a string of increasingly bizarre events the cops appear on the scene and the robbery goes all to hell. We never do learn why the cops were tipped off (or maybe I just missed it?) and it did bother me slightly that this wasn't explained. Not enough to put me off this wonderful film however.

These early scenes of the robbery set the tone for the rest of the film. The incompetence of Sal and Sonny and the string of coincidences that ensue give the film a vein of black humour that had me killing myself laughing. Sonny is so on edge and everything that can go wrong generally does, from asthma suffering guards, to bank tellers needing to visit the bathroom. It's some funny stuff and the black comedy continues throughout the film in the scenes with Sonny out on the street outside the bank.

As the film goes on the scenes in the bank have a strange air to them. There is a bucket load of tension, but the hostages seem to be enjoying themselves during their ordeal. Dancing and laughing, like they donít see Sonny & Sal as a real threat. A touch of Stockholm syndrome sneaking in by the looks of things. The viewer however sees things a little differently. Whilst we may also not consider Sonny that much of a threat the silent, sweaty Sal is a different kettle of fish.

Director Sidney Lumet shoots the film with a great feeling of claustrophobia. The bank feels very small and very full with the large amount of characters that are in it. The hot New York afternoon, coupled with the loss of the air conditioning heightens the tension filled, claustrophobic atmosphere. This feeling along with the liberal sprinkling of black humour makes for a different and ultimately satisfying movie watching experience.

I couldn't really talk about Dog Day Afternoon and not mention Al Pacino's tour de force performance as Sonny. This film along with the likes of The Godfather shows just how good Al Pacino is an actor. He is effortless, blending into characters taking them over and getting under your skin. You watch this film and you don't think, 'hey there's Al Pacino.', you think, 'Hey, there's Sonny!'. Sonny is a very likeable character, but he does some unlikable things. It's the genius of Pacino that allows the audience to warm to a man who is basically a petty thief.

Elsewhere in the film is John Cazale as Sal. Sal is a cold character, very ambiguous. A man of few words, but you just get a feeling that he is capable of using his automatic weapon. One scene where he tells a teller off for smoking is chilling to the bone, you don't know what he's going to do and it's spine tingling. Keep an eye out for a very young looking Lance Henriksen in a small part and a top bit of work from Charles Durning as the cop in charge of the operation outside the bank.

I only really had one small problem with the film. Whilst for the most part Lumet keeps the pacing tight to match the tension there is one scene that I felt dragged on a little too long. The scene with Sonny talking to his male wife on the telephone seemed aimless and went on for a smidge too long. Upon researching the film I found out that this screen was almost entirely improvised by Pacino and the other actor. It shows, badly, a little trimming would have gone a long way in that scene.

Aside from that though Dog Day Afternoon is a superior black comedy with a stunning central performance and a nice line in media satire that is a few years ahead of it's time. A modern classic that is definitely worth your precious time seeking out.

 

/10.

Poster Quote - The dogs bollocks.