Larry’s review published on Letterboxd:
Kiss me. When I'm being fucked, I like to get kissed on the mouth.
Not gonna lie, this is EXACTLY what I'd do if I were to conduct a bank robbery.
Words aren't enough to explain how absolutely bonkers this movie is. A bewildering, anxiety-fueled rollercoaster of a film, Sidney Lumet's Dog Day Afternoon is an astonishing neo-noir thriller centered on a simple heist-gone-wrong story, laden with twists and turns that make for one enthralling watch. Accompanied by some explosive performances and a gripping narrative, Dog Day Afternoon is a balancing act of insightful commentary and brilliant tension, serving as both a character study into a deeply confused man as well as an examination into the ethos of 1970's America, executed with unflinching honesty and convincing realism. It's electrifying as it is perplexing, brilliantly written, intensely shot and so intricately made that it's impossible not to get sucked into this whirlwind of craziness.
August 22, 1972 was just like any other day in New York City. People going to places, coming to places, meeting up with friends, talking with them, dropping kids of at school, going to work and all things that constitutes life's drudgery is encompassed in the opening montage. But let's divert out attention to the First Brooklyn Savings Bank, shall we. The daily cash pick-up truck has arrived and taken all the money in the vault. Yonder on the pavement, a car is parked with our main guys, Sonny and Sal, on the lookout, scanning the bank with the help of Stevie. The trio enter the bank. Sonny, with a gun concealed under a box, holds up the bank. The robbery has begun. They settle down the 9 hostages, order them to open the vault and grab the cash. Stevie gets cold feet and runs away but Sonny is adamant they get the money. The problem is, the pickup truck already took the bank's daily earnings so there's a paltry $1200 left. To make things worse, someone tripped the alarm and lo and behold, the police rush to the scene, trapping the duo in the bank. Sonny and Sal find themselves in a sticky situation that just gets worse and worse and worse...
For a clean 2 hours, I was there. Oh, I was there alright. There as one of the curious spectators behind the jumpable police fence, there as the trigger happy policeman doing his job, there as the hostage in this oddly amusing situation. I was lost in another world, so to speak. Sidney Lumet's intentions are not just to film a bank robbery gone awry but to gives us a multitude of perspectives amidst the madness. The film succeeds in capturing the essence of a volatile period in America's history right from the opening montages that examine everyday New York to the personality of the crowd's cheering and booing Sonny's actions and to even Sonny chanting the Attica prison riots. It's a tasty slice of life, exploring themes of the working class, queer pride and media circuses through our pressured main characters and, holy fuck, does it make this movie is gripping.
Your empathy will run out for poor Sonny and Sal. A slew of brief but superb performances keep the realism intact and the pacing taut. Al Pacino takes the crown as our troubled protagonist, Sonny. This is a role that teeters on being unbearably loud and overly dramatic but Pacino doesn't ever overdo it. A crazed, neurotic ball of anxiety, Sonny is just a normal Joe doing things that just isn't expected during a bank robbery because this man is the human equivalent of a knife in a gunfight. John Cazales gave a showstopping performance as Sal. The duo's naivety is what appealed to me, making it more relatable and hilarious. From Sal not knowing where Wyoming is to Sonny's unreasonable ransom demands, it's hard not to feel at least an ounce of pity for these guys. Charles During as Sergeant Moretti was marvelous to watch. Chris Sarandon played a minor role as Leon and it is worth mentioning. The 9 hostages also gave brilliant performances but it's Cazales and Pacino that shine throughout the film's runtime.
I was constantly in awe on how this film is shot because this might as well be a masterclass in blocking and framing. Its a technically flawless film. The camera, cranked by Victor J. Kemper, does marvelous use of its limited sets, constantly engaging us with its urgent dollies and subtle mise-en-scene to amp up the tension with the editing, complimenting the pacing of the film. The screenplay by Frank Pierson, which rightfully won him an Oscar, with its amazing dialogue and absurd situation, acts more as a mirror to prevailing societal issues at the time than a cookie cutter heist film, making it layered and so worth it for a rewatch.
The bank robbery spectrum is bookended by two films in my opinion. There's the concise, bloody, brutal and effective robbery a là Dragged Across Concrete, Heat style and then there's the unorganized, crazy, 'are you fucking serious' vibes of Dog Day Afternoon (feel free to pipe your own opinions!). It's one of those 'stranger than fiction' kinda situation and it's fascinating to watch. Desperate times call for desperate measures but, fuck, this is another level of desperation. Its easy to pass of Sonny as a impulsive, innocent child man that can't hold anything responsibly. But he had no choice because he loved Leon. It was all going well but it's his innocence that got the best of him. Its a soul crushing ending but it was inevitable.
I am super stoked to check out Sidney Lumet's other works because this here seriously piqued my interest for him.