Dog Day Afternoon (1975)

4.5 stars

Al Pacino gives one of his finest performances in this highly-entertaining drama about a bank robbery gone wrong, directed by the incredibly dexterous Sidney Lumet.

Dir. Sidney Lumet
1975 | USA | Drama/Crime | 125 mins | 1.85:1 | English
PG (passed clean) 

Cast: Al Pacino, John Cazale, Penelope Allen, Chris Sarandon, Charles Durning
Plot: A man and his friend attempt to rob a bank but it turns into a media circus.
Awards: Won 1 Oscar – Best Original Screenplay; Nom. for 5 Oscars – Best Picture, Best Director, Best Leading Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Film Editing
Source: Warner Bros

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Normal
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream


Review #1,715

(Reviewed on DVD)

Spoilers: No

Dog Day Afternoon is an incredible film, and like Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men (1957), it is set primarily in one location (well, as far as Al Pacino’s character is concerned).  Lumet has a wider canvas to play with here, giving us a similar sense of claustrophobia, not to mention, the sweltering heat due to, in this case, malfunctioning air-conditioners.

A handful of people are in the bank—the robbers, the bank manager and the tellers.  Outside, an entire regiment of armed policemen await, hoping to knock some sense into Sonny (Pacino) and Sal (John Cazale) to surrender non-violently.

The media get to the scene pretty quickly, and so are throngs of curious onlookers.  You might be forgiven if you thought it was a political rally had you been on a helicopter in the sky, as the media are, circling to get good aerial coverage for the evening news.

“Is there any special country you wanna go to?”
“Sal, Wyoming’s not a country.”

Sonny, as agitable as he may be, is also a reasonable person.  When the planned robbery goes wrong after a miscommunication, he tries to wriggle his way out of the situation by getting the authorities to cooperate with him.

As much as it is a power play between two opposing forces, one fully primed to attack, and one making the most out of his circumstances, Dog Day Afternoon is also about the relationship between society and the media, best exemplified by Sonny’s shouting of “Attica! Attica!”, a reference to the infamous and tragic Attica Prison riot of 1971.

The events of Lumet’s film are also based loosely on a true story, and even if you have a sensing of how it might end, the storytelling is taut and entertaining enough to make the two hours fly by.

Halfway through the production, Al Pacino collapsed from exhaustion and had to be hospitalised for a short time.

Pacino’s performance is truly top-class, in what could be his finest work, snarling to great intimidating effect, yet he imbues his ‘bad guy’ character with a rare sensitivity towards the whims of human interaction.  Sal, on the other hand, is eerily quiet and impenetrable as a persona, whom only Sonny could handle.

The threat of violence from within and without is real, and Lumet escalates the tension in several set-pieces expertly.  Such is his dexterity in directing actors and crowds that it is impossible not to feel how immersive and effortless his ‘world-building’ is (including a subplot on homosexuality that is weaved in without feeling out of place), and how human his characters are, at either side of the law.

In a year with One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Nashville, Jaws and Barry Lyndon competing for the Best Picture Oscar, Lumet must count himself unlucky.

Grade: A





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