At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Dog Day Afternoon “75”

At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Dog Day Afternoon “75”

MPAA Rating: R/Genre: Biographical Crime Drama/Stars: Al Pacino, John Cazale, Charles Durning, Chris Sarandon, Penelope Allen, Sully Boyar, Susan Peretz, James Broderick, Lance Henriksen, Carol Kane, Beulah Garrick, Sandra Kazan, Estelle Omens, Marcia Jean Kurtz, Amy Levitt, Gary Springer, John Marriott, Philip Charles MacKenzie, Dick Anthony Williams, Judith Malina, Dominic Chianese, Edwin “Chu Chu” Malave/Runtime: 125 minutes

On the 22nd of August in the long-ago year of 1972, an incident occurred which made not just the local police scanner, page 2 of the next day’s paper, or even as a small blurb on the evening news, but eventually as a story in the iconic periodical known as Life magazine. That being that a trio of men decided to engage in a bit of that time-honored tradition amongst humanity known as criminality. In the case of this trio however, they weren’t desiring to murder someone, stab as many people as they could in a 10-block radius with a samurai sword, and above all they certainly weren’t looking to beat the world record for most jaywalking committed in a single day. Rather, these small-time crooks were, for reasons best left unsaid, aiming to try and rob a chapter of the Chase Manhattan Bank located in Brooklyn and make off with the fairly solid amount of 150,000–200,000 dollars that they had been led to believe was going to arrive at the bank that afternoon via armored vehicle. Yet upon entering the bank that afternoon at 3:00 in the afternoon they quickly discovered that the armored vehicle had not brought the amount of money they had been led to believe. Rather, a few hours prior, it had instead taken the vast majority of the cash that the bank usually would’ve had on hand and went about its typical day to day operations. Seeing no other options and their plan quickly and rapidly melting out from under them, our “brilliant criminal masterminds” decided to take the 29 thousand dollars that the bank still had on site and make their getaway. Yet whilst one of the robbers was able to flee the scene, the other two weren’t so lucky and it wasn’t long before not only had the cops shown up on the scene, but what had started out as a simple snatch and grab-type heist quickly devolved into a hostage crisis. To be sure, the story that I laid out for you above dear reader might sound like one that very much fits into the mold of reel life rather than real life as it were, but it actually did happen. Of course, it should come as no surprise to learn that, in the aftermath of these events, the land of movie magic (as did the rest of the nation apparently) got wind of what had transpired and swiftly put plans in motion to bring this crazy but true story to life in a cinematic format with no less than iconic director Sydney Lumet at the helm and acting legend Al Pacino in the lead role. The result would be a 1975 slice of cinema, and movie I happen to be reviewing for you today, known as Dog Day Afternoon and, despite close to 5 decades having come and gone since, this is still quite the phenomenal film. Yes there are a few issues here and there, but overall with incredibly solid work on both sides of the camera Dog Day Afternoon is a tense, riveting, and thoroughly entertaining example of movie magic at its finest and a true must-see in every sense of the word.

The plot is as follows: Taking us back in time to the long-ago year of 1972, Dog Day Afternoon gets its intriguing narrative underway in a rather unorthodox manner. That being by taking us on what appears to be a guided tour of sorts across the entirety of New York City on this rather mundane and run of the mill, to say nothing of sweltering, day in the life of the various people residing in the Big Apple. As seemingly picturesque and serene as this tour is however, it soon comes to an end when we approach a certain street in the neighborhood of Gravesend located in the borough of Brooklyn. This is because not only is this where a branch of the Chase Manhattan Bank is located, but also where a suspicious car is located outside. Of course, it should come as no surprise to learn that the trio of men inside the car haven’t made the journey to this particular bank because they have heard from people that they can open an IRA and get quite the tax benefits. Along with that, they also aren’t there to open an account, close an account, or even make a deposit in an account there that’s already in one or all of their respective names. Rather, they are there to make (what they hope) is quite the substantial withdrawal. Put another way for those of you out there who might not be in the know when it comes to criminal slang: these three men are here to rob this bank and make off with a substantial amount of cash for their troubles all while not harming a single soul working in the bank and not attracting the attention of those who would rather not see them engage in or even get away with this scheme or law enforcement if you prefer things short and simple. As “charming” and “well thought-out” as this seemingly perfect plan seems to be however, it isn’t long into the execution of it starts to go awry in a pair of distinct ways. Those being that not only does one of the robbery team get cold feet and promptly leave the other two high and dry, but the pair that remain make a startling discovery in the form of the bank having already had its daily cash pickup come and go for the day. This means that, rather than the hefty sum they were expecting to score from robbing the joint, the pair will only be able to walk away with the princely amount of 1,100 dollars in cold, hard cash. As disheartening as this is though, we soon see things quickly go from bad to worse when the leader of the robbers, a guy by the name of Sonny, decides to torch the bank’s register of traveler checks in a trash can and the smoke soon raises enough suspicion from the outside that the cops are quickly dispatched to the area. Thus with their simple snatch and grab scheme having now turned into a full-blown hostage situation and media circus can Sonny and his accomplice Sal find a way to get out of this in one piece or is this dog day afternoon one with a cold hard reality check waiting to be cashed in by the end of it?

Now right off, it should be said that the work done by the various departments behind the camera on this cinematic outing is truly nothing short of stellar in every sense of the word. Without a doubt in my mind, this starts with the work done by the iconic Sidney Lumet in the director’s chair and this is easily one of the 5 best movies of his career without question. Indeed not only does Lumet do a masterful job of blending together a streak of dark humor, a healthy helping of social commentary, and a fairly consistent undercurrent of sweat-provoking tension and suspense, but he also does a wonderful job of making this slice of cinema feel as realistic as possible too. Not just in terms of the tempo of the overall movie, but in how he doesn’t once try to provide the viewer with a collection of motives or even a whole lot in the way of supplementals that you might see in a movie like this. Instead, the film just sets out to educate us on what exactly occurred during this particular incident in a way that is as grounded, honest, and real as possible. A choice that might detract from how much of an impression the movie might be able to leave from an emotional perspective, but not from how potent or captivating it ultimately turns out to be. Alongside Lumet’s marvelous work, the film is also the blessed recipient of a terrific screenplay by Frank Pierson (1965’s Cat Ballou and 1967’s Cool Hand Luke among others). Indeed not only does Pierson’s screenplay work beautifully in synch with the rest of the film in ensuring that it is as authentic as possible, but it also does a wonderful job at really making the characters of Sonny and Sal feel less like fictious archetypes we’ve seen a million times before and more like actual human beings much like you and me. As a result, yes they have hostages and yes they have guns, but they are also able to (much like with the aforementioned hostages to an extent) garner our sympathy to the point that we care just as much about them as we do the other people in the bank. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the work done behind the camera though is the fact that, except for a few moments here and there especially in the first 10 minutes or so, this slice of cinema is one that has no musical accompaniment whatsoever. Yet rather than be a detriment to the film in any way, this actually is a significant positive especially when you discover that, like the rest of the work done behind the camera, this was done so this slice of cinema could operate as a gritty, and seemingly realistic chronicle of the events taking place as they occur over that single summer afternoon/night rather than as an account that tries in any way whatsoever to bring forth any specific emotions on the part of the viewer in a manner that felt forced in any way. Therefore, we see that by omitting a musical accompaniment the gifted team behind the camera are able to do a much more effective job of not only submerging you, the viewer into the topsy-turvy world of the film, but also at making this feel like a documentary rather than a fictional take on the events in question. Suffice it to say then that, when also taking into account a wonderful job from both the cinematography and editing departments respectively, there is no denying that the work done behind the camera is most assuredly movie magic at its finest and then some in the best way possible.

Alongside the impeccable work done behind the camera, this slice of cinema is also blessed with a collection of electrifying performances in front of the camera also. Far and away, this starts with the performance given by lead actor Al Pacino and this is easily one of the most iconic of his career which, given that this IS Pacino we’re talking about, definitely says something. Indeed as Sonny, we see that Pacino does a wonderful job of bringing a combination of honest ferocity and an almost pendulum-style temperament that result in him being a character that we are never entirely sure at any given moment of what exactly he is going to do next. At the same time though, the film also does a beautiful job of giving us a fair amount of solemn and low-key moments including one near the end with Sonny drawing up a last will and testament with the aid of some of the bank employees. Indeed it’s in those moments where Pacino lets Sonny’s uber-confident and assured exterior fade away and we see the anxiety, terror, and anguish that has been laying just under the surface finally come forth in a way that is both refreshingly human and heartbreakingly palpable all at once. Suffice it to say it’s a phenomenal turn from one of the more iconic actors of his (or any for that matter) respective generation. As magnetic as Pacino is however, we see that is matched incredibly by the work done here by the late yet great John Cazale. Indeed as Sonny’s partner in crime on this endeavor Sal, we see that Cazale does a terrific job of playing a character that, when looking at him one way, is pretty much anxiety in a human body and, when looking at him the other way, is perhaps someone who we, and the other characters, should be concerned about more so than even Pacino’s character. This is because while Sonny keeps his fear and psychological turmoil in check, Sal is constantly looking like he is about 5 seconds away from snapping in a way that will surely cause this whole affair to end badly for everyone involved to say nothing of himself. Suffice it to say it’s a phenomenal performance and one that offers further proof of the talent that Cazale brought to the silver screen and which was taken from us tragically much too soon. Alongside Pacino and Cazale, this slice of cinema also features a terrific co-starring turn from Charles Durning (Francis Griffin in Family Guy) as Sgt. Moretti. Indeed Durning does a wonderful job here of being tough yet fair and decent in his portrayal of the cop who is desperately trying to keep some semblance of order to the negotiations between law enforcement and the robbers in the bank even as things continue to descend into glorious chaos at nearly every given opportunity. Lastly, I think this section would definitely be amiss if I didn’t take some time to talk about the work done here by Chris Sarandon. No I won’t go too much into detail about the role he plays due to spoilers of a sort, but what I will say is that Sarandon does a wonderful job of bringing a solemn, sensitive, and emotional openness to his part that makes it one which definitely proves to be quite impactful despite only having about 30 minutes of screentime tops. Suffice it to say that when you also factor in solid efforts from such performers as Penelope Allen, Susan Peretz, James Broderick, Lance Henriksen, Carol Kane, Estelle Omens, Marcia Jean Kurtz, Amy Levitt, and John Marriott among others it’s clear that while the work done behind the camera is magnificent, the work in front of the camera is something else entirely in the best way possible.

All in all and at the end of the day is Dog Day Afternoon a perfect and flawless in every way slice of cinema? Sadly no though darn it all if this isn’t one film that manages to get a heck of a lot closer than the vast majority that we as an audience are presented with in a given year. With that in mind, does that make this the worst film in the careers of anyone involved in the making of it? Absolutely not. Not by a long shot. I mean have you ever seen Just Tell Me What You Want from 1980 or Gigli from 2003? If not then trust me when I say that the only thing you are missing from either of those slices of cinema is the larger-than-life headache that I have from watching them and which my doctor assures me I still have at least 5 years to go before the symptoms will start to subside….hopefully. Sarcastic comments aside dear reader, I must admit that I absolutely love Dog Day Afternoon. Not only because it’s a magnificent movie to say nothing of one of the best of the long-gone year 1975 or even in the respective filmographies of either its undeniably talented director or lead actor, but it’s also because this actually was my introduction to the acting force of nature that is Al Pacino when I was growing up (5 guesses and the first 4.5 don’t count as to which parent was responsible for this). Indeed the work that is done behind the camera on this is nothing short of magnificent and the work done in front of the camera manages to be just as impeccable. Suffice it to say then that if you are looking for a crime film with bullets flying every which way, people dying in a variety of unpleasant and bloody ways, and the lead character building a drug empire from virtually the ground up….then I think the movie you are wanting to check out of Pacino’s would be Scarface from 1983 because this definitely is not the kind of film. On the other hand, if you want one that is contemplative, gritty, and rooted in a realism that the previous example only merely shakes hands with then give this film a try. Sure, there are other movies you could watch, but sometimes you just can’t beat a classic especially when it’s one that’s this darn good. Make of that what thou will dear reader and remember: Attica! Attica! On a scale of 1-5 I give Dog Day Afternoon “75” a solid 4.5 out of 5.

*Having watched the trailer I have determined that it is quite spoiler-heavy and could therefore prove to be detrimental to your enjoyment of the movie should you choose to see it. As a result, I am not including it here where I would normally put it. Thank you for your understanding, Happy Father’s Day, and I’ll see you guys at the movies! Ag*