Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Flick of The Day: Dog Day Afternoon

The truth is something which Hollywood has a difficult relationship with. How often have you seen "Based on a true story" or the decidedly more vague "Based on real events" only to find out that reality is a different story entirely. Today's flick of the day then is a rare thing, a Hollywood picture that is a true story that occurred on a Summer afternoon in August 1972 in Brooklyn.
On a sunny afternoon just before closing time, three men enter a branch of the Chase Manhattan in Brooklyn, New York. They are there to rob the bank, each for different reasons. They are led by Sonny, a manic Al Pacino as a desperate loser trying to raise money for his lover's sex change operation and Sal, played by the brilliant John Cazale. What was meant to be a quick job quickly goes awry and within the hour, the bank is surrounded by hundreds of police, TV cameras and crowds of onlookers. The police negotiator is the hapless Moretti played by Charles Durning. Of course it soon descends into a circus, and a panicked Sonny requests a plane and plots their escape. However, it is apparent that the end is nigh when the FBI, led by the cold Agent Sheldon, take over the negotiations.
Directed by Sydney Lumet, whose work we have seen before here on The Daily Flick with The Verdict and The Pawnbroker, this film is a small triumph. By remaining true to the real life story, it gives the film a documentary feel which is heightened by the use of long angles from TV cameras and helicopter footage. As the emotional heart of the film, Al Pacino carries a weight on his shoulders but he delivers in style. His characterisation of Sonny is filled with pathos and a healthy dose of reality. His performance carries the film but is ably supported by Cazale, an actor whose filmography though only 5 films long reads like a list of the great film's of the 1970s. 
How close to reality is the film? Well without giving too much away in terms of plot, it keeps the basic premise of the story but changes events slightly to aid in the telling. The character of Sonny, was based on John Wojtowicz, and after using the funds he received from selling his story to pay for his lover's sex change died of cancer in 2006.

Sonny: Kiss me. 
Det. Sgt. Eugene Moretti: What? 
Sonny: Kiss me. When I'm being fucked, I like to get kissed a lot.

The real genius of the film is managing to portray the lunacy of the situation without downplaying the seriousness of it. This is no romantic tale, neither side cover themselves in glory. The thieves appear to have no clue how much trouble they are in while the police seem hell bent on ending the siege in a hail of gunfire.
One of the classic films of a great decade for cinema, Dog Day Afternoon is led by a bravura performance from Al Pacino as a classic antihero. The film makes great use of the location shooting and like so many films of the period examines contemporary issues of race, sexuality and crime while still providing an intelligent, entertaining film. All in all, a film that has to be seen.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Follow by Email