July 12, 2012

Dog Day Afternoon

Dog Day Afternoon (1975) is a bank robbery movie that's so intense you start to feel stressed out for the hostages, as though you were a hostage too. Al Pacino, post-Godfather I and II, gives a smashing performance as Sonny, the Brooklyn bank robber who's trying to get enough money so his lover, Leon (Chris Sarandon), can get a sex-change operation. The question that hangs over the proceedings, as Sonny's robbery is stalled by the arrival of seemingly every cop and FBI officer in New York, is just how crazy is Sonny? And, how crazy is his partner, Sal (John Cazale), who seems like a grenade, waiting to explode.

What's so funny about this movie is how badly Sonny and Sal bungle their robbery, which, as the movie poster reads, should have lasted for a few minutes, but turned into a 12-hour ordeal, full of bullshit negotiations. Sonny's gullible though, and under too much pressure to think clearly (he has a considerably complicated home life, between his wife and kids, his demanding mother, and his obsession for Leon, who's trying to get away from him, to the point of several failed suicide attempts and subsequent hospitalization). And probably Leon is unknowingly hungry for the attention he receives throughout the day and into the night. And no bank robber ever had friendlier, more accommodating hostages. They like him, strange as that sounds, and they're not really that scared of him. They even criticize his lack of organization skills in carrying off the robbery. But the humor is mixed with a real sense of tense fear, and the looming dread of the inevitable showdown between the robbers and the police. 

Director Sidney Lumet and screenwriter Frank Pierson have fun exploring what kind of a circus a drawn-out bank robbery turns into when the media shows up, spectators flock to the scene, and the criminal becomes a sort of revolutionary, a hero standing up against the establishment. No one really even cares what, if anything, Sonny represents, other than rebellion. Even the hostages, for the most part, seem keen to like him, even if it's because they're under such extraordinary pressure. They seem to be having a good time, as though Sonny had involved them in a TV drama, not an actual robbery.

With Charles Durning as a detective, James Broderick as an FBI agent, Lance Henriksen as the agent driving the getaway car, and Penelope Allen, Sully Boyar, and Carol Kane among the bank employees being held hostage. It's loosely based on real events which occurred on August 22, 1972, from an article in Life Magazine written by P.F. Kluge and Thomas Moore, called, "The Boys in the Bank."

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