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   DOG DAY AFTERNOON (1975) 

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CAST
Al Pacino
Sully Boyar
John Cazale
James Broderick
Charles Durning
Penelope Allen
Beulah Garrick
Carol Kane
Chris Sarandon
Gary Springer

DIRECTED BY
Sidney Lumet

PURCHASE


DVD




Time: 124 mins.
Rating: R
Genre: Crime/Drama

Won Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Nominations for Best Actor, Director, Film Editing, Supporting Actor (Sarandon) and Picture.


I haven't had the pleasure of seeing much of Pacino's early work, since I was too young at the time to appreciate it or get into the theater. He is an explosive actor in his rages and silences, keeping you glued to the edge of your seat wondering just what's he's going to do next. In DOG DAY AFTERNOON, he gives one of his many award-caliber performances as a sexually confused bank robber just trying to make everyone in his life happy. Of course, his main problem is getting out of his current situation alive. This is a taut tale full of stand-out performances and gripping drama. Based on a true story, Pacino makes you feel sorry for Sonny, a man at the end of his rope, who never meant to cause such a stir.

Directed by the brilliant Sidney Lumet, DOG DAY AFTERNOON is a fascinating character piece that will stick in your mind for a long time. He manages to take a story that could have been a freak show – guy robs bank to steal money for his boyfriend's sex change operation – and turns it into a film about the ills of society, the pain of love and the suffocating bonds of family. Sonny could be any one of us, pushed to edge by the stress of life and its sometimes never ending sea of problems.

The film begins with Sonny (Pacino) and his two accomplices, Sal (Cazale) and Stevie (Springer), entering a local Brooklyn bank right before it closes. The beginning of their assault is almost the end, when Stevie almost instantly loses his nerve. Sonny tries to hold everything together so they can get in and out with the least amount of problems. Unfortunately, fate works against them at every turn. From the feisty employees demanding to use the rest room to the bank being almost devoid of any money, everything is going wrong. By the time they make this horrific discovery – the truck came several hours before and emptied out the branch – the cops have somehow figured out a robbery is taking place and surround the building.


"He won't listen to anybody. He's been very crazy all summer. Since June he's been trying to kill me."

There seems to be no way out for Sonny and Sal. Sonny is forced to think on his feet and come up with a plan of escape that will keep them alive and out of prison. His hostages don't exactly help matters with their whining and condescending remarks. The police also start in on him, trying to get him to surrender, let the hostages go or at least give them a list of demands. With the press on scene, the streets surrounding the bank soon become filled with bystanders all waiting to see what happens next, cheering Sonny on. He thrives on the attention, using the people to create havoc with the cops. As the hours tick by the situation begins to degrade rapidly for those inside the bank. The air conditioning is shut off, they're hungry and Sonny is desperate to work with the police to get out of there. He comes up with demands, but they aren't easily met. He convinces Sal that the police are on the up and up and that they'll be able to escape by plane to wherever they want. Since they won't be able to come back to New York, Sonny asks Moretti (Durning), the local cop in charge, to bring his wife down so he can say good-bye. Who they finally bring down is a stunner.

Sonny's new "wife" Leon (Sarandon), who's actually been in Bellevue and is scared to death of Sonny. It turns out that Sonny robbed the bank in order to get the money Leon needs for a sex change operation. Having to support his parents, real wife and kids, there was no legal way for Sonny to get the cash. The cops don't know quite what to make of the effeminate Leon, but try to get him to talk Sonny into giving himself up. Leon may be gay, but he's no fool. Sonny is crazy and nothing he's going to say will change the situation. He's right and the standoff continues. Things come to a head when the FBI takes over and appears to deliver on Sonny's demands. As they drive to the airport, he convinces Sal that everything is going to be all right. That's just one more thing Sonny's wrong about.

DOG DAY AFTERNOON is an amazing true story brought brilliantly to life by director, cast and crew. Since the entire film takes place in the bank, you'd think it would get boring, but Lumet and the editors do a first rate job, keeping the story moving and the audience interested. By introducing Sonny without giving away his reason for needing the money, the filmmaker's make sure the audience goes into the film with no preconceptions about him, except that he's rather desperate and perhaps slightly off his rocker. The fact that he married another man, doesn't come into the film until about 2/3's of the way through with the arrival of Leon. In fact, Lumet kind of tricks us into expecting Sonny's real wife Maria (Levitt) by showing her talking to policemen in her apartment. Sonny's one conversation with her made me feel more sorry for him than her. She was so focused on her own fear and horror at the situation that she missed his cry for love and understanding. It's no wonder he left her for Leon. At least he knows how to listen.

By keeping Sonny's homosexuality a secret Lumet allows everyone to sympathize with him and once it comes out, you don't really care. The emotional core of the film has already shifted to Sonny's survival, so his sexual preference is not really a point of contention anymore. It seems to be a logical reason to rob the bank...well better than most. At least he's doing it to help someone he loves. Pacino is breathtaking in this role. Every pore exudes his fear and tension. His physical transformation is beyond dramatic. If his eyes got any deeper into his face they'd fall in. The mental toll of this supposedly simple job gone bad wreaks physical havoc to his body. It's hard to believe it's the same person from the first scene to the last.

The other standout performance is that of Chris Sarandon. I have not seen much of his other work, but here he gives Leon just the right touch of femininity and street smarts. The cops may be laughing at him, but he knows who he is and he's not ashamed of it. Charles Durning and James Broderick also perform admirably as the cops trying to bring this standoff to a happy ending, at least for the hostages. Two familiar faces in the supporting crowd are Lance Henriksen (ALIENS, THE TERMINATOR) and Carol Kane. It's weird to see Kane in a dramatic piece since she is mostly known for her comedy work. Henriksen plays the lackey role in this one which is usual in his early work. If you're looking for a film that showcases why Al Pacino is one of America's great actors, you need look no further than DOG DAY AFTERNOON. It's a gripping tale with one ferocious performance at the center of the storm. It would be an average film if it weren't for his enormous talent.



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