Dog Day Afternoon (1975) - 8/10
Updated: Jul 22, 2021
I’ve never seen this all the way through before. I’ve seen clips, but I’ve got the gist… right? Bank robbery goes wrong, based on a true story. Pacino chewing the scenery. Nope, there’s a whole lot more going on here. We’re in Brooklyn, New York in it’s 1970s squalor. Summer heat, dirty streets, that undercurrent of slight desperation. Desperation that leads Sonny (Pacino) and Sal (John Cazale) to walk into a bank in broad daylight, sporting classic cheap 70s suits, concealed guns and in Cazale’s case an iconic haircut. They’re in over their heads from the get go, the panic palpable even in the opening lines of dialogue. It’s not supposed to be funny, but they’re so shambolic it’s hard not to chuckle a little. They’re small time, nice guys really just doing something stupid for what turns out to be very little money. This is America though and some things don’t change. How do you resolve a fairly minor criminal situation… yes, more guns! Enter the cops. All of em I think. If Sal wasn’t jittery before, he is now. It’s got a weird tone to it. Grimey and lo-fi, but with a bizarrely large cast, one that rallies with our two assailants, siding with the little guy oppressed by the gun crazy police authorities. But it’s clear pretty quickly that it’s much more than a mere stick up and more a commentary on haves, have nots, the role of the family, societal structure, celebrity culture. For what’s essentially a bit part, Sal pulls focus whenever called upon. It’s the Sonny show though and Pacino really does go all in, playing the trapped and troubled wannabe bank robber. That’s just it though. He doesn’t really want to be there at all and neither does Mulvaney (Charles Durning), the cop he’s negotiating with. They both want it over, but Sonny has a purpose. The money is for his husbands sex change. I really didn’t expect that and it seems like a interesting role for Pacino in 1975 to go for following The Godfather and Serpico. He pulls it off though, the whole cast do, normalising the situation remarkably quickly, everyone keeping cool. Time is a weird thing in cinema. I often look at older films, the simplicity in the storytelling, in the production and wonder would it work as well today. Can modern filmmakers do this, or do we simply expect more, certainly in production values, but I think a modern take would bury it in grit, blood, serious drama. This is enjoyable entertainment. People are waving guns around, but it doesn’t exactly feel dangerous. Again because it’s much more than a heist movie. The hostages become friends of a kind. There’s emotional depth, both in Sonny’s reasoning for the robbery and in the way it plays out. It’s hard to believe it’s a true story or based on one and I certainly was well wide of the mark on my assumptions going in. It’s great. You might want to take a shower after though, it’s one of the sweatiest looking films I’ve watched in quite some time.