Dog Day Afternoon Reviews
These reasons and more are why the story of John Wojtowicz is so intriguing. Based on the true story - a story so absurd that it must be reiterated time and time again that it is indeed rooted in fact - of a bank robbery taking place in Brooklyn back in 1972, Dog Day Afternoon follows three men, Sonny Wortzik (Al Pacino), his friend Sal Naturale (John Cazale), and another accomplice named Stevie (Gary Springer). The three men attempt to rob the First Brooklyn Savings Bank one morning, and the plan goes awry almost immediately when Stevie loses his cool and abandons the two men after Sal first draws his gun. In another unfortunate circumstance, Sonny and Sal realize they've chosen to rob the bank right after the daily cash pickup truck has arrived, meaning the bank only has around $1,000 in the vault.
Sonny attempts to make up for this circumstance by stealing the bank's traveler's checks and burning the bank's ledger that keeps track of all of them. The smoke from the small blaze alerts nearby businesses and law-enforcement of suspicious activities, and what was supposed to be a routine, by-the-numbers robbery becomes a hostage situation and a media spectacle. The incompetent and defeated Sonny winds up attempting to hold the young, female bank tellers hostage, as well as maintain his cool long enough to request enough supplies and transportation to get him and Sal to safety as quickly as possible.
The problem is that, throughout the course of Dog Day Afternoon, nothing happens as quickly or as conveniently for the characters as possible. The result is like watching a pathetic bank robbery put on by a band of Saturday Night Live cast members, as both Sonny and Sal are stuck between a rock and a hard place throughout the entire film. This also makes this particular film so interesting because of its constant situational humor that seems to keep building and developing as the film goes along. Nothing goes right for the characters, despite their efforts to make things work, and that's one of the fundamental building blocks of comedy that director Sidney Lumet and screenwriter Frank Pierson constantly toy with.
By classification and its inherent nature, Dog Day Afternoon is a crime drama. It centers around a bank robbery and, regardless of how ill-conceived and managed such the bank robbery is, its narrative is ultimately fixated on a crime. Having said that, it's worth noting how seamlessly Lumet and Pierson interweave comedy and dry wit into the film's narrative, not turning the contents of the story into a laugh riot desperate for uproarious reactions from the audience, but allowing the pathetic characters and the poor circumstance to work for themselves and create comedy very naturally. It's only right that Al Pacino, an actor who can play both low-key and over-the-top, often in the same film, lead the cast as a character who, throughout the course of the film, looks like the personification of an unattended pot left to hopelessly boil over on the stove with nobody in sight to save or cool it down.
Dog Day Afternoon's sole setting and slight number of characters allows for familiarity in faces and locations to build very elegantly. Neither Lumet nor Pierson get too caught up in the spectacle of the entire event and shift the focus away from the interior meltdown to the commotion occurring outside. I'd actually be hardpressed to believe, at least after seeing this, that a short film centered around a successful bank robbery captured in one setting would be as tense as this. The unpredictability and the sheer lunacy of all that is unfolding really assist the film in creating something so crazy without gratuitous shock value that it's truly something to behold for all of its one-hundred and twenty minutes.
Starring: Al Pacino, John Cazale, Gary Springer. Directed by: Sidney Lumet.