Sometimes, it takes you a while before you finally catch a movie considered a classic. Even if you are like me and you love film. Hell, I majored in Film Studies and I still haven’t seen all the classics, or the perceived classics. Some of the movies often considered to be great don’t necessarily click with me. This is true of most Hollywood musicals, but is also even true of some comedies and dramas. It Happened One Night bored me. Silence of the Lambs isn’t my thing. Recently, I finally caught a film that has gotten so much love over the years. I’m talking about Dog Day Afternoon. Yes, I finally watched it, and it was well worth the hype.
Dog Day Afternoon is a 1975 film directed by Sidney Lumet. The next year he would direct Network, a truly iconic movie. What a back-to-back one-two punch from Lumet. The movie got six Oscar nominations and won for Best Original Screenplay. It’s in the Library of Congress. It’s considered one of Al Pacino’s best films and performances. That guaranteed nothing, of course, but it turned out I agree with all of this. In fact, I think it should have gotten more acting nominations than it did.
The movie is based on the true story of a bank robbery. In 1972 Brooklyn, Pacino’s Sonny and John Cazale’s Sal decide to rob a bank. What’s supposed to be an in-and-out job gets complicated when a fire alerts the outside world to something being amiss and the police are called. The bank job turns into a hostage situation and a standoff with the police and the FBI. It becomes a big news story and cultural event in New York, with Sonny becomes a bit of a cult figure. However, as the movie goes on, it also becomes clear that Sonny is a bit unhinged, complicating the story further.
The screenplay and Lumet have a deft hand with telling a story like this. I will admit, a big part of the reason why I had not watched Dog Day Afternoon before was that I was wary about watching a movie with a hostage situation in it. In the film, though, only bank employees are taken hostage, and the interaction between Sonny, Sal, and the hostages keeps things from feeling too bleak. In fact, the bank robbery plays out almost as a comedy piece while still remaining tense. The film is riveting, and I never felt too unease, though of course there are emotional and disconcerting moments in the movie. They are just handed with a skillful touch.
Pacino is great as Sonny, but he’s not the only great performance. Cazale is famed because he was only in five films before he tragically died young, but they were all Best Picture nominees. He’s good in the film, but his performance is quiet and reserved, and he doesn’t really pop. Chris Sarandon got a Best Supporting Actor nomination, but I would have also given one to Charles Durning. He plays Sergeant Eugene Moretti, the NYPD member who first negotiates with Sonny. Durning is so good. I also like the actor who plays the bank manager, Sully Boyar, who I was not familiar with.
In short, Dog Day Afternoon has earned its accolades in my mind. It’s a really good movie with some tremendous performances and excellent directing. I’m glad I finally got around to it. I hope the next classic I finally catch up with is just as good.