Anthony's Film Review
Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
This crime drama is gripping and features an impressive performance by Al Pacino...
Dog Day Afternoon is a film that grimly reminds us of a specific old-time mantra: crime doesn't pay. Some films might glorify acts of crime as if they truly are rewarding and are easy to carry out without getting caught. But not this one. In fact, Dog Day Afternoon is based on a true story of an actual bank robbery attempt in Brooklyn that was expected to be quick but turned into a prolonged standoff with police. It's the kind of situation where even the criminals are terrified, just as much as the hostages they hold captive. And that, of course, provides Hollywood with inspiration for intense drama.
After the opening credits, the film goes right into the crime. Sonny Wortzik (Al Pacino), his comrade Sal (John Cazale), and another accomplice enter the First Brooklyn Savings Bank casually like any client would. Sal sits with a bank manager, holds up a machine gun, and tells the manager to act natural. Soon, Sonny pulls out his gun and announces that they are robbing the bank. The third person has a guilt trip and quickly bails out, leaving Sonny and Sal in charge. As anyone would, the bank tellers and other staff do not attempt to fight back, instead doing whatever they're told just to preserve their lives.
But here's what makes this otherwise typical bank robbery more interesting. Sonny, who acts as the leader of the bank heist operation, really looks incompetent. It's one thing to have a bank robber who is frighteningly ruthless and shows no hesitation to shoot bullets into defenseless hostages. This guy, in contrast, seems like an amateur. He sounds nervous when things don't go as planned and when he orders a hostage to do something in response. The only reason the hostages follow Sonny's commands is that he still holds a gun. It's almost comical to watch this, in contrast to Sal who speaks much less but is scary whether or not he even says anything.
And this is happening BEFORE the police surround the bank and the media have cameras ready to provide live coverage. With the heat really turned up, Sonny becomes much more desperate. When he momentarily steps out of the bank entrance, he yells at the police, telling them to get away from him. During an interview via phone with a live television news anchor, Sonny starts talking about his limited employment options, then swears at the reporter, prompting the broadcast to go on standby to shield out the profanity. The one who maintains ongoing contact with Sonny is a law enforcement negotiator who, as any negotiator would, listens to Sonny's demands and seemingly cooperates with the robber. Even when Sonny demands that a plane takes him and Sal out of the country, the negotiator attempts to work out a deal granting that wish.
As the afternoon standoff goes all the way into the middle of the night, it's clear that the movie is all about Sonny Wortzik. Yes, the bank hostages are no doubt very afraid, but when there's so much stacked up against the robber, Sonny essentially becomes a hostage of his own actions. After some time, he appears as disheveled as the hostages who have become weary after being in the bank for so long. Besides the conflict with the law, his personal issues come to the forefront, as the public learns about his mother, his transsexual gay lover, and his wife and kids on welfare. Sonny is really a tragic character, and he's memorable thanks to Al Pacino sinking well into his role.
With a fine leading performance and an engaging script, Dog Day Afternoon is an intense crime story that does not disappoint. This is certainly one of many examples of good Hollywood filmmaking. It's also great that the movie is more original than some other films of its kind, being about a robbery gone horribly wrong. It's like what I said above: crime doesn't pay. It's not worth putting one's own life and the lives of others in jeopardy for a big payoff. But it is worth seeing Dog Day Afternoon, because this film delivers a payoff of smart entertainment.
For more information about Dog Day Afternoon, visit the Internet Movie Database.