on October 28, 2001
Without showing a trace of his icy performance as Michael Corleone in "The Godfather" parts 1 & 2, Al Pacino made a radical departure by playing a bisexual bank robber in "Dog Day Afternoon." Here's a hilarious (but apparently true) story about Sonny (Pacino) who stages a bank robbery to finance his lover's sex change operation. Within minutes, the attempted robbery heads for disaster, as the police and media surround the bank while Sonny holds the employees hostage for the entire day. Even after nearly 30 years, "Dog Day Afternoon" is a marvel to see. This film won a well-deserved 1975 Academy Award for its witty screenplay, and Pacino's performance ranks among his best. Unfortunately, those who are looking for a deluxe-edition DVD will be sorely disappointed with this release. The picture is incredibly grainy, with spots, hairs, and marks. The sound is 1-channel mono, instead of a 5.1 surround remix. But the biggest slap on the face is the virtual lack of features on this DVD: we don't even get a trailer. All we get are production notes. Movie buffs and Pacino diehards will pick this up, but everyone else should hold off, rent the film, and hope that Warner Bros. will release a special edition of this great movie.
on September 27, 2001
I saw this movie because of my respect for Sidney Lumet. He is up there with Scorsese as one of the finest American directors. This film is as good as Lumet's other masterpiece Twelve Angry Men. However, I don't want to talk about Lumet in this review. I want to talk about Al Pacino whose performance I regard as being the best in cinema's golden history.
Pacino's performance as Sonny is breathless. He says so himself: "I can't breathe". The film's short time period helps create this feeling of tension and intensity inside Pacino. He is a complicated character who I still can't fully understand after numerous viewings. Is he really gay? Why does he treat Leon so badly and yet the whole bank heist is in Leon's best interest. What is the relationship with Sal? Why would he bring such a liability along with him?
We get to know Sonny in short visits by Sonny's parents and Sonny's wife. He is an enormously affecting character. Though Sonny and Sal are the bank robbers, we grow fond of them because of their deeply moving performances. We share in Sonny's anxiety in his relationship with the FBI. He trusts no one. Not even the bank tellers who he befriends.
The best scenes to watch Pacino at work are: his frustration when the tellers have to go to the bathroom; the famous "ATTICA" scene; the improvised phone-call to Leon (Chris Sarandon); and the finale "Don't shoot me". Sonny is one of the greatest characters in the movies perhaps because he is a real life one. And Pacino really finds the spot to make him into a compassionate character.
on February 2, 2001
Al Pacino burns up the screen in Dog Day Afternoon which is based on a true story and confirms that fact that truth is sometimes stranger than fiction. Mr. Pacino plays Sonny who teams up with the dullard Sal (John Cazale) to rob a Brooklyn bank on a sweltering summer afternoon. Sonny was a one-time bank employee, so he knows all the tricks of the trade to thwart bank robbers. Unfortunately for the robbers, the bank virtual has no money do to having made a deposit only hours before the robbery attempt. A shopworker across the street from the bank notices the strange proceedings and calls the cops. Before you know it, the bank is completely surrounded by cops. The cops (led by Charles Durning & James Broderick) start a hostage negotiation with Sonny. Even though Sonny's a crook, he isn't all bad and he, Sal and the hostage bank workers form a strange kinship. The story is shown on TV and a crowd gathers in the streets as well and Sonny becomes something of a cult hero. His scenes on the street outside the bank are scintillating including his famous Attica chant. Sonny is married with kids, but it turns out that he was robbing a bank to pay for a sex change operation for his gay lover, Leon (Chris Sarandon). The movie closes out at night at the airport in dramatic fashion. Sidney Lumet does a fine job translating the heat and humidity of the day and you can feel yourself sweating along with the characters. Mr. Pacino has been more heralded for his Godfather roles, Scarface, Serpico and Scent Of A woman, but in my book, he was never finer than he was in this movie.
on November 20, 2000
This is one of those rare films that, having never seen before, I would come across one lazy Sunday afternoon of channel surfing, and the cinematic imagery on screen strangely grasps my attention instead of instantly propelling me to move on and find a football game or something. I guess it's kinda comparable to a bad traffic accident; you know it's wrong to gawk, but you just can't look away.
So what makes this true story of a disheveled loaf (Al Pachino), who decides to alleviate some of his more bizarre economic needs by taking a stab at the bank-robbing profession, such an intriguing mess? For one, the character development provides the viewer with many clever personality sketches of unique and involving individuals as opposed to typical, standard formula, two-dimensional stereotypes. There are no caricature cutouts here. In addition, there's the facetious irony of the NYPD and the FBI being out-witted by this hapless duo for most of the day, and it doesn't help law enforcement any that an on-looking crowd is loving every minute of it. You will never find two dumber criminals than Sonny and his mental-midget for a partner, Sal. Aside from devising no escape or back-up plan for the robbery, they show their ineptitude by negotiating ludicrous terms with the police. Sonny tells his partner that they need to fly out of the country. Sal suggests Wyoming. After discovering that Wyoming is not a country, they settle on Algeria of all places. The freak show reminds you of that Southwest Airlines commercial with the slogan "Want to get away?"
The movie seems to be no more than a retelling of that afternoon's events, but it does so in a very compelling way and without taking sides or manipulating the viewer's emotions. At the end we may feel some sympathy for the captors, but the film keeps us at enough distance so that we may soon shrug it off and objectively realize that what becomes of criminals, no matter how incompetent or simple minded, is typically what they deserve.
on February 19, 2002
'Dog Day Afternoon' is a chaotic strory about two uneducated losers holding a bank up for an afternoon and evening. There is one actor here who is light years ahead of anyone else in the movie. His name is AL PACINO. For almsot two hours, he gives cinema the greatest performance it has ever seen. In a scene of overwhelming intensity, he screams at the cops and the police, "Attica! Attica! and then, "Put your guns down! Put your guns down!" The crowd cheers the criminal and the viewer can't help but be left in awe.
In another scene where a pizza deliver boy is delivering the goods for the hostages in the bank, Pacino is let loose once again. The crowd outside realizes he has loads of money in his hand. They scream for it. "You want some of this!" Pacino yells, and the runs to one side of the band and hurls a handful of money. Then he runs to the other side, hurling another load. Ladies and gentleman, here is an actor caught in a zone. An actor so awesome we can't tell if he's acting or not.
The magic that Pacino brings to the screen is irresistable, exciting, and finally, breathtaking.
on May 3, 2004
Well-done, tense drama of a botched bank robbery in Brooklyn in which two misfits commit one absurd blunder after another and turn a criminal act into a three-ring circus, what with the police, crowds and the media swarming upon the bank to observe the comedy of errors.
Al Pacino is superb as Sonny who wants the money to finance a sex-change operation for his transsexual lover (well done by Chris Sarandon). Aiding and abetting Sonny is half-wit Sal (John Cazale in a solid characterization) who chooses Wyoming as a foreign country destination for a safe haven. Charles Durning scores as Detective Moretti who spars with Sonny throughout the afternoon and arranges "safe" passage for him and Sal to JFK and their would-be flight to freedom. There are snippets of dialogue from the 1956 feature film, "The Lone Ranger", that is heard in the background during the hostage standoff inside the bank. Ironic because the Ranger's law-and-order message falls on deaf criminal ears during the commission of the felony.
Sidney Lumet's Oscar-nominated direction is sharp throughout. Based on actual events, "Dog Day Afternoon" is another great winner from the 1970s, Hollywood's second Golden Age. 5 stars out of 5.
on May 4, 2002
I can't say enough good things about this film. The very fact that the versatile director Sidney Lumet was even able to pull it off--and so convincingly--is amazing. It's also Pacino doing the finest work of his career. He is incredible in a difficult role; his stamina holds up throughout without any breaks in continuity, and he is able to make Sonny both tragic and likeable, even for all of the character's flawed logic and bumbling ineffectiveness as a robber. The scene towards the end when he dictates his will to the bank teller who writes it up is one of the most moving scenes in all of cinema. Lumet and crew are to all to be commended. The film's atmosphere is perfectly captured--you can FEEL the stifiling, sweltering heat inside the bank as if you are sitting in there with the hostages. If DDA hadn't been released during the same year as "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" (which swept almost ALL the Academy Awards in almost every major category for 1975) it would have won all of the same awards, hands down, as far as I'm concerned. As it turned out, it unfortunately won only one award, for screenplay. But awards or not, you will NEVER forget this movie. Pacino has never been this good, even in the Godfather series.
Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
Crime, Drama, 125 minutes
Directed by Sidney Lumet
Starring Al Pacino, John Cazale and Charles Durning
Al Pacino is one of the best actors of his generation and has given us many memorable characters, from Michael Corleone in The Godfather trilogy to his Oscar-winning portrayal of Frank Slade in Scent of a Woman. But if I had to pick my favorite character, it would be Sonny Wortzik. So, as the snow falls in Ontario, I decided to escape to the dog days of Brooklyn in the 1970s.
Pacino's performance was so full of energy. He switched from ranting like maniac to moments of quiet reflection. He appeared dangerous when required, but showed that he cared about the plight of his hostages a moment later. In fact, most of his hostages ended up rooting for him to succeed in his attempt to rob their bank. Heist movies are something I enjoy when they are executed well, and this would top my list. What's interesting is the reason Sonny attempts the robbery at all, but I won't reveal that here. It was certainly controversial back in 1975.
Sidney Lumet was responsible for the first entry on this list; 12 Angry Men. With Dog Day Afternoon, he showed us how the media was capable of turning criminals into celebrities. With his sidekick watching the hostages, Sonny ventured into the streets and performed for the gathering crowd. You'll probably find that you want Sonny to escape too because Lumet does such a good job of showing us his character and motivations. Isn't it strange how we sometimes root for the criminal?
Lance Henriksen makes an appearance toward the end of the movie and it helped launch his career. The resolution might not be what all that we were hoping for, but the movie was based on a true story. I remember watching Dog Day Afternoon in my early teens, and my taste in movies was very different from what it is today. But something about the story held my attention even then.
One thing I learned is never attempt a robbery with a partner who thinks Wyoming is a country.
on January 19, 2003
No one who is an appreciator of fine acting should ever pass on a Sidney Lumet film. Never known for his cinematographic innovations, it is practically a truism that Lumet managed to draw out life-best performances from the many good and great actors he's had working for him. I've never done the math, but I'd almost bet that he sports more best lead and supporting Oscars than any other director in the history of film. His formula, if you can call it that, is turning up the heat on his characters to unbelievable pressure, but refusing to let them boil over.
In Dog Day Afternoon, Sonny, a very humanly desperate bank robber, experiences what has to be the most exasperating run of bad luck in the history of bank robberies. Not only is he saddled with a klutz for a partner (also played and written with heart-torquing humanity), but they have to take hostages, there's no money in the bank, a fire starts in a garbage can, sheer chance causes a shopper across the street to notice something strange in the bank so the police are called. Bad enough so far, especially on a swelteringly unbearable day. Eventually the police arrive, who are in turn surrounded by a mob of people who are more supportive of the bank robbers than the police (this is, after all, 1972). The bank robbers even begin to befriend their hostages, until finally Sonny's secret lover shows up to tell the gathered media how Sonny was robbing the bank to pay to get him a sex change. Sonny is baffled, the police are baffled ... only the mob seems sure of anything on this improbably crazy day in New York. And what makes the movie most unbearably sad and funny at the same time is that it's all based on true events.
Just as Lumet was able to pull off being limited to a single juryroom with 12 men in "Twelve Angry Men" without allowing the movie to become boring, the larger canvass of "Dog Day Afternoon" disguises the fact that this is basically a drama that takes place in a single room as well. Precisely as the characters don't rant and scream normally in a Lumet movie, so also is it the very staticness of plot, which feels like everyone is hold their breath waiting for something to happen, that makes it so nerve-tingling.
The acting is great, but Pacino is impeccable. Eschewing the uncut machismo that de Niro has allowed himself to be molded by, here Pacino's tough-guy bank robber is more of an endlessly put-upon Job. Lumet has framed things so that it's as if Sonny was just going to run into a deli to get a sandwich, and ended up in the midst of some giant shoot-out. Never has a movie about sheer bad luck been so well-made.
If there was ever a movie that cried, "Oh for god's sake" from beginning to end, "Dog Day Afternoon" is that movie, and it does so with inimitable style. A genuine classic and must-see Pacino.
on March 20, 2001
True story details how two overly optimistic losers set out to rob a Brooklyn bank, and the resulting incident dominates all of NYC for a day. Sonny (Al Pacino) is desperate to raise money for his gay lover's sex change operation, and Sal (John Cazale) suggests that they flee the country by going to Wyoming. Sonny's dumpy wife, mother, his lover Leon (Chris Sarandon), the NYC police, the FBI, the gay community, and even the local pizza delivery guy all show up outside the bank. Inside the bank, Sonny finds a rapport with the hostages and comes up with a grand scheme to escape to Algeria. Dull-witted Sal however, is smart enough to realize that chances are nil that they're going to get out of this. Great performances all around, and we actually root for Sonny and Sal because we realize that besides being dumb, they're harmless. Masterfully shot on location, and it's a treat to watch Pacino work the crowd outside the bank. Look for a young Carol Kane and Phillip Charles MacKenzie.