Thursday, August 18, 2011

Dog Day Afternoon (1975)

Genre: Drama
Starring: Al Pacino, Jon Cazale, Charles Durning
Directed by: Sidney Lumet

My interest in this film began mainly because when its director, Sidney Lumet, died earlier this year, some of the tumblr blogs I follow exploded in a sadness I could not join because I had not seen any of his work.  I've been wanting to see one of his films since then, and I picked this one first, mainly because it's streaming on Netflix and had the best summary there:

To get money for his gay lover's sex-change operation, Sonny (Al Pacino) -- who's married with kids -- teams up with Sal (John Cazale) to rob a New York bank on a scorching-hot summer day. The stickup goes awry when the press gets wind of the circus sideshow-esque story. Chris Sarandon, Charles Durning and James Broderick co-star in this classic Sidney Lumet-directed film based on an actual event from the 1970s.
I don't know how that couldn't convince someone to watch it.

I am so happy to report that the film did live up to its wonderfully enticing summary, but maybe that's because the beginning was one of the most hilarious things ever. In a good way, I promise. This movie is definitely not a comedy, but there are so many funny moments, especially in the opening. The break-in goes not as intended because of how inept the criminals are; it's so fun to see them try to figure out what the heck they are supposed to be doing, especially because they never quite get used to the whole "holding people hostage" situation.

However, there is definitely a tone that's serious overall, one that is revealed a bit slowly because of how long it takes for the truth about Sonny's intentions of robbing the bank to come out. I think the mark of a good antagonist (which I would say he is, since he is holding people hostage and all) is that it's easy to dislike them for their present actions, but also easy to sympathize with them and see where they're coming from. It's easy to do that with Sonny; he just wants to help, and even though his methods are questionable, it's clear that he does not want to hurt anyone to help those he loves. I loved seeing him deal with the possibility of someone getting seriously damaged while being held, deal with the police that we always closing in, and deal with his friends and loved ones. It's a great mix of issues to watch, especially in such a tense setting. It also doesn't hurt that Al Pacino is awesome and totally brings the character alive. 

At times, it's darkly funny, but Dog Day Afternoon is mainly a constantly emotional and exciting thing to watch. 

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