I wasn't ready for Dog Day Afternoon. I was expecting a simple heist thriller, albeit one with some very fine acting. Dog Day Afternoon destroyed those expectations, and kept going further and further beyond them. I can't imagine a movie like this, a movie of such scope, being made today.
If Al Pacino has done any finer, more varied acting in a movie, then I haven't seen it. In movies like The Godfather or Heat, his performances are generally kept in a pretty specific range of emotions. Here, he's all over the place, and it impressed the hell out of me. And John Cazale is just as impressive, he's the somber, quiet face that constantly reminds us that this story can't end well, no matter how smoothly things may be going from moment to moment. He already knows, like we secretly do, that tragedy and violence hang over the bank like a spectre.
You've never seen a bank robbery like this. The robbers themselves are genial and accomodating, and quickly you come to the conclusion that these are not evil men. The hostages come to that realization along with the audience, and soon they seem to be running the show as much as their captors. There's a real camaraderie that forms between all those involved, including the police officer who is initially in charge outside. That peaceful resolution seems so near, that we want to believe that it's actually coming. That only makes the inevitable conclusion more stark, when it arrives.
Dog Day Afternoon tackles some big, unexpected issues. The only Sidney Lumet movie that I had seen prior to this was Before the Devil Knows You're dead, so I had no idea that he was capable of this kind of a film. Needless to say, I'm now looking forward to seeing a lot more of his work. I was completely unprepared for some of the social themes that are a major part of the story, because they come completely out of the blue, and they're the lynchpin of the entire plot. And the movie is all the bette,r and makes a bigger impact, because of that. Your personal politics or opinons don't really matter, because by that point you'll be so involved with the characters that it all just seems like more pieces that go into the puzzles of who they are. It's sheer genius, in my opinion.
On a day when I've seen Psycho for the first time, it's hard to imagine that there could be another movie that I could have watched that would make an impact, as well. But together with Blood Simple, I've seen two movies that are almost good enough to come out from under Psycho's shadow. Dog Day Afternoon is one of those movies that makes you really appreciate all that film can be, and it's even more remarkable when you remember the disclaimer that said that these events really happened. I cannot wait to watch it again.