Top 100 Films #62 – Dog Day Afternoon (1975)

 

dog_day_afternoon_5#62. Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
Directed by: Sidney Lumet
Written by: Frank Pierson (based on The Boys in the Bank by P.F. Kluge, Thomas Moore)
Starring: Al Pacino, John Cazale, James Broderick, Charles Durning, Chris Sarandon

Dog Day Afternoon is Sidney Lumet’s intense standoff film loosely based on the true story of two bank robbers in early 1970’s Brooklyn.  Al Pacino and John Cazale star as Sonny and Sal, two men who walk into the First Brooklyn Savings Bank and hold it up for all the money in the vault.  Unfortunately for Sonny and Sal, they’ve arrived after the daily cash pickup and turn up nearly empty-handed. On top of this, their already lousy luck is about to run up – neighbouring businesses have reported suspicious activities to the police, who are on their way to the scene of the ongoing holdup. Before they know it, the bank is surrounded by police officers and their plan has been foiled.  Dog Day Afternoon is an essential New York movie, painting the city in a hot, muggy light that I’ve seen matched by few films.  Lumet and writing Frank Pierson create two erratic, flamboyant characters in Sonny and Sal, but one could argue that the film’s most compelling character is New York City itself – the passersby on the street wondering what’s going on inside, the police officers surrounding the building, those being held hostage in the bank – everything about it feels right.  Lumet and Pierson inject the film with intensity and just the right amount of dark humour – their situation is bizarre and unfortunate, but it always feels like there might be a way out for Sonny and Sal.  Dog Day Afternoon perfectly captures the newfound cynicism of the early 1970’s, leaving the romanticism of the 60’s far behind. Gone are the idealized and unrealistic characters, replaced by far more believable, flawed, and reflective modern characters.  Al Pacino’s Sonny is a great example of this dramatic shift in Hollywood and the rest of America – his character becomes something of an antihero in the eyes of the pedestrians surrounding the bank, his struggle and frustrations represent many of their own. Pacino is terrific in the film, leading John Cazale’s reluctant Sal through the ordeal, holding negotiations with officers, interacting with hostages – he commands the scene through every minute of the movie.  The always wonderful John Cazale is another highlight of the film, serving as Sonny’s more impulsive, easily panicked partner in crime.  It’s a shame that Cazale wasn’t long for the world, because he was and incredibly versatile and assured actor.  Dog Day Afternoon is essential watching for fans of crime movies – especially involving hostage negotiations or siege-like conditions.  It’s tense, it’s bizarre, it’s well-acted, and its atmosphere just can’t be beat by modern films.  

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