Dog Day Afternoon


Reviewed by: Stephen Carty

Al Pacino as Sonny Wortzik in Dog Day Afternoon
"A compelling and powerful character piece."

At the beginning of the never-lives-up-to-its-opening actioner Swordfish, John Travolta's terrorist articulately discusses moviemaking. Musing on Dog Day Afternoon, he asserts: "Arguably Pacino's best work. Short of Scarface and The Godfather, Part I of course. A masterpiece of directing, easily Lumet's best. The cinematography, the acting, the screenplay, all top-notch. But they didn't push the envelope". Now, aside from this last part (JT wanted the baddies to be more eeevil, you see), this is all bang on the money.

The action is set on a sweltering day in New York, when unemployed Sonny Wortzik (Pacino) and two of his friends attempt to rob a bank. Though it's only supposed to take ten minutes, things spiral disastrously out of control and a few hours later they're surrounded by the police, the media and a crowd who're lapping it all up.

Copy picture

We open with a "what you are about to see is true" disclaimer and then watch an Elton John-accompanied montage of the Big Apple. Don't let this calm-before-the-storm introduction fool you, we're soon inside the bank and from there the picture exponentially unfolds into a compelling and powerful character piece. With an on-location shoot, New York is as much a character as any of the ensemble, all summer heat hysteria and noise, while the ever-burning tension creates the definitive 'heist gone wrong' flick.

Of course, re-uniting Al with director Lumet after Serpico was always going to produce something special. Despite initially turning down the part due to exhaustion after The Godfather Part II, this is Pacino at his unpredictable, method-acting peak (don't worry, he didn't rob a bank as practice). Sonny is a brilliantly-watchable bundle of contradictions - sometimes running the show, sometimes without a clue; inside the bank unable to control the small group of employees, outside transforming into a crowd-pleasing performer.

As for the director, he again shows mastery of claustrophobic situations (12 Angry Men anyone?) while adding another classic to his unbelievable Seventies and early Eighties run (Serpico, Network, Murder On The Orient Express, The Verdict, etc). Then there's the support. Charles Durning as the harassed cop trying to control the mayhem, James 'Matthew's Dad' Broderick as the controlled FBI agent, Chris Sarandon as... well to say more would only spoil. Best of all though is John Cazale as Sonny's on-edge accomplice Sal. Though most film fans only know him as the Corleone’s black-sheep Fredo, here Cazale gives another fantastic showing, using his outcast quality and natural sadness to graft depth to a character with virtually no lines.

Peak Pacino, Lumet on top form, the ultimate bunged heist thriller… in short, Travolta was right.

Reviewed on: 31 May 2010
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Dog Day Afternoon packshot
A bank job goes horribly wrong.
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Director: Sidney Lumet

Writer: Frank Pierson, based on the book by Leslie Waller and articles by PF Kluge, Thomas Moore

Starring: Al Pacino, John Cazale, Charles Durning, Chris Sarandon, Sully Boyar, Penelope Allen, James Broderick, Carol Kane, Beulah Garrick, Sandra Kazan, Marcia Jean Kurtz, Amy Levitt, John Marriott, Estelle Omens, Gary Springer

Year: 1975

Runtime: 125 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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