Dog Day Afternoon (1975)

“No, I don’t want to be paid, I don’t need to be paid. Look, I’m here with my partner and nine other people, see. And we’re dying, man. You know? You’re going to see our brains on the sidewalk, they’re going to spill our guts out. Now are you going to show that on television? Have all your housewives look at that? Instead of As The World Turns? I mean what do you got for me? I want something for that.”

‘Dog Day Afternoon’, directed by  Sidney Lumet in 1975, is an American crime drama starring Al Pacino as Sonny Wortzik, a small time criminal who’s attempt to rob a bank ends up with him and his hostages becoming minor celebrities. Wortzik and his partner Salvatore “Sal” Naturale, played by John Cazale, break into the bank on a hot day only to discover that there is very little money there. After a series of mishaps, the police arrive and a siege is started. Through his status as spokesman for the pair, Wortzik’s unusual and oddly compassionate attitude attracts the crowds and, before long, the police are hampered by demonstrations and circling news helicopters. After Pacino’s role in ‘The Godfather’ and ‘The Godfather Part II’ prior to this, his performance as Wortzik feels intimate and small. This is emphasised by the presence of Cazale as his unstable sidekick, an actor who had appeared with Pacino as the wayward and, ultimately doomed, Fredo Corelone brother. The whole film is tightly written and shot on a small canvas, in contrast with Coppola’s epic films. This intimacy emphasises the, for the time, subversive but noble motives of Wortzik, to pay for a sex change operation for his boyfriend. It’s an ironic but powerful movie, surprisingly funny, particularly in the disastrous heist depicted in the opening scenes, and in the relationships between the hostages. In the end the film is bittersweet and his a necessarily downbeat finale, but the character of Wortzik shines as a conflicted man, compassionate and principled, but driven to desperation.

Would I recommend it? Yes – it’s a strong and absorbing movie with an unbelievably engaging central performance. The combination of events and the twisted media reaction to the events suggest that a film like ‘Network’, also directed by Lumet the following year, would be an excellent double bill.

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