Dog Day Afternoon

Directed By: Sidney Lumet

Starring: Al Pacino, John Cazale, Charles Durning, James Broderick, and Chris Sarandon

"Kiss me.  When I'm being f*cked, I like to get kissed a lot."
-Sonny Wortzik (Al Pacino)

The 1970s are often regarded as the Second Golden Age of Hollywood.  With all the social upheaval of the 60s and 70s over the Civil Rights Movement, Vietnam, and a host of other issues of the day, there were plenty of things on people’s minds when they entered their local multiplex, and filmmakers took note of this.  What made movies during this time so bold is that they were issue-driven.  Focusing on themes such as politics, social injustices, and racial inequality, these films simultaneously entertained and educated.  Of all the films that came out in the 70s, the boldest film by far has to be Sidney Lumet's Dog Day Afternoon.  Covering themes ranging from police brutality and cruelty in the prison system to racial discrimination and homosexuality, Lumet takes the gloves off and lands quite a few potent jabs at what was wrong with society at that time in this outstanding crime drama.

Sonny Wortzik (Pacino), Sal Naturile (John Cazale), and Stevie (Gary Springer) go to First Brooklyn Savings Bank with one thing in mind, robbing it.  Stevie chickens out pretty quickly.  Upon entering the bank and rounding up all the employees and customers in the building, Sonny and Sal learn it was all for naught.  The vault was emptied earlier in the day, and only $1,100 remains for the taking.  Sonny opts to boost his fortunes by stealing the bank's traveler's checks and burning the register to prevent anyone from tracking his use of them.  The only problem is that the smoke from the fire he started seeps through the vents and people on the streets notice.  Soon, people realize what's happening inside, and quickly thereafter the cops arrive outside.

Sergeant Eugene Moretti (Charles Durning) of the police department is the head of the crime scene here at First Brooklyn Savings Bank, and things quickly become chaotic.  Under the supervision of FBI Agent Sheldon (James Broderick), Moretti tries to negotiate with Sonny for the release of the hostages.  This effort fails miserably with both Sonny and Sal threatening to kill all the hostages if anyone enters the bank.  However, they change their tune when bank security guard Howard Calvin (James Marriott) keels over from an asthma attack.  When Sonny releases an ailing Calvin, the police immediately arrest the security guard, a black man, because they erroneously assume the brother is a crook.  This embarrassing, prejudiced mistake allows Sonny to fan the flames of social unrest amongst a growing crowd of observers outside the bank, a sign of the unforgettable events unfolding in Brooklyn this afternoon.

Based on the events at a Chase Manhattan Bank branch in Brooklyn on August 22, 1972, Dog Day Afternoon is an intense, nail-biting crime drama that echoes with a profound social message on a variety of themes.  Highlighting the discriminatory practices of police officers against African-American men, the injustices raging in prisons like Attica across the United States, and boldly going where few filmmakers had gone before by tackling homosexuality on the big screen, director Sidney Lumet's signature film may just be the most emblematic issue-driven film of the 70s.  This classic movie is all about standing up for those in society who can’t stand up for themselves, the little guys.  Along the way, Lumet even manages to subtly explore the psychology of hostage situations and the relationships that can blossom between captors and their captives.  With incredible performances from his cast and some laudable filmmaking, Lumet has given us a film for the record books in Dog Day Afternoon.

If Al Pacino has a career defining-film, Dog Day Afternoon might just be it.  His delivery of bank robber Sonny Wortzik stands as one of the greatest screen performances of all time.  There's just something magnetic about his performance, especially when he's outside the bank egging on the cops and the on-looking passers-by.  It's truly fascinating to get a peek inside the psyche of Sonny.  At times, Pacino gives a nervous, erratic character.  At others, he gives us a profoundly dynamic figure.  At all times, Pacino makes it clear that Sonny is an unstable character that's standing up for more than just bank robbers.  He's standing up for the little guy.  His portrayal of Sonny is the work of a world-class actor who has mastered his craft and taken it to another level altogether.

Pacino's fellow supporting cast members are no slouches either.  There are two in particular I'd like to mention here.  His frequent collaborator and fellow Godfather co-star John Cazale (Fredo) gives us one cold fish in Sonny's riding buddy Sal.  Despite that, he's a calming influence on Sonny and the stable member of their duo.  Once again, Cazale plays well off Pacino.  While Cazale's Sal is calming Sonny down, Charles Durning's Eugene Moretti revs the unstable robber up time and time again.  In one of the best performances of his career, Durning frequently trades explosive dialogue with Pacino in suspense-filled scenes that will keep you glued to the edge of your seat.  You have to respect anyone who verbally can go toe-to-toe with a towering screen legend like Pacino at his absolute best.

Given that I'm one to embrace daring cinematic endeavors, it should come as no shock that Dog Day Afternoon is one of my favorite films.  Lumet and his outstanding cast give us truly the greatest bank robbery movie of all time.  This movie takes the crime genre to new heights, and I have nothing but love for Lumet's work here.  Dog Day Afternoon gets a sober rating.