Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
Directed by Sidney Lumet
Starring: Al Pacino, John Cazale, Charles Durning, Penelope Allen
Al Pacino was relatively unknown when he was tapped for a part in this Sidney Lumet film. The story for the film was pulled from a real-life bank robbery three years prior. The movie would go on to earn Pacino an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. The movie also featured John Cazale, a friend of Pacino’s, as well as Charles Durning (The Sting, Tootsie) and Penelope Allen (Scarecrow, The Thin Red Line). Another Oscar nomination was given to Chris Sarandon for Best Supporting Actor. The movie was also nominated for Best Editing, Best Director, Best Writing, and Best Director. The movie ultimately won for Best Writing for the screenplay written by Frank Pierson.
Three friends enter a bank, determined to take the money and be out in less than ten minutes. After one of them chickens out, Sal (Cazale) and Sonny (Pacino) are left to deal with the hostages and plan an escape. Soon the police and the FBI are on the scene, with Police Captain Moretti (Durning) heading up the negotiations. Soon it’s discovered that Sonny is looking for money to get a sex change for his boyfriend. This just adds to the public interest in the case. As the standoff drags on it becomes a spectacle for everyone there as well as the many viewers of the news stations broadcasting the events live. With the time passing by the police have to work with Sonny to meet his demands and free the innocent people trapped in the bank.
Words won’t really express the drama and emotions of this great movie. Between the talkative Pacino and the almost silent Cazale the film is tightly wound from beginning to end. The acting of these two, as well as the rest of the cast, really hold up this interesting story. Durning manages to play a police officer that’s almost out of his depth, but still capable of understanding the situation. Sarandon, with his small part, also shines as the confused and emotional boyfriend. With the incredible screenplay, this movie didn’t need much more to be successful.
The visuals of the film are also good. The camera work isn’t fancy, but it feels like it always shows exactly hat is needed to make the scenes great. This is a combination of great editing and wonderful direction by Lumet. The pacing was also good, intentionally torturous at times. Constantly keeping that “edge of your seat” feeling going.
I enjoyed this movie for a number of more selfish reasons as well. First of all, John Cazale was a brilliant actor who died way too soon. He left behind a body of work that also includesThe GodfatherandThe Deer Hunter.
Sidney Lumet would later state “One of the things that I love about the casting of John Cazale … was that he had a tremendous sadness about him. I don’t know where it came from; I don’t believe in invading the privacy of the actors that I work with, or getting into their heads. But my god – it’s there – in every shot of him. And not just in this movie, but in Godfather II also.”
Cazale left a lasting impression on American cinema that has endured and his performances are still amazing to watch.
This was a great watch. I recall seeing this movie years ago, but this time around it struck me that the helplessness of the whole situation is wonderfully captured. I would recommend this one for anyone who likes drama. This is a movie that would’ve struck a chord when it was released due to the mentions of Attica and Vietnam. Despite being a political movie at times, this one has held up incredibly well. I think that note still rings true today. I give this one 4.5 out of 5 stars.