Movie #323 2020: Dog Day Afternoon (1975)

Ugh, look at the depth in the above shot. It’s just gorgeous. And I bet you can tell already where this review is going to go.

Dog Day Afternoon is a bit of a seventies masterpiece, in all honestly. Behind the camera is legendary director Sidney Lumet, and in front of it is arguably one of the world’s greatest ever actors, Al Pacino. What’s not to like? Based on a true story, Dog Day Afternoon follows a bizarre bank robbery in Brooklyn. What’s so bizarre about this robbery? It goes horrendously wrong in ways you’d never expect. As Sonny – the would-be bank robber played by Pacino – slowly reveals what his motives for the crime were, things get ever more complicated, and the botched job becomes a media circus.

Lumet really wastes no time getting into the action with this. No more than 10 minutes in, we’re in full heist mode. What I loved about the opening sequence (and the entire movie, truth be told) is its tone. It’s so serious, so am I meant to be scared? But it’s hilarious… so am I meant to be laughing?! Brilliant. Lumet is a genius when it comes to evoking emotion within an audience, though this is much different to the things you’ll feel when you watch 12 Angry Men. Both movies are a testament to his range, that’s for sure.

Pacino completely shines in every second of this film. Of course he always does, but watching him zip around the room, descending into hysteria and chaos is so convincing and a joy to watch. Though many regard his performance(s) in The Godfather Trilogy his best work, it’s easy to argue that this is right up there with them. The simple fact is that less people have seen this movie and that’s the only reason it’s less celebrated.

Brilliant script. Expertly paced. Perfect use of silence. Top notch humour. Wonderful performances. Flawless improv. What else is there to say? Man, they made some good shit in the seventies, didn’t they? And on a shoestring budget? I’m absolutely astounded. (For context, this movie cost less than $400,000 to make. Its simplicity is definitely there, and it does take place more or less in one room, but $400k?! Lumet truly has the ability to make something wonderful out of nothing.)

A high concept look into what makes a villain, morality, right and wrong, but the over-arching theme here is the complexity of the human psyche. Dog Day turns the crime genre on its head, with the hostages and the public eventually siding with the assailant. I’ve never seen that done before and it is utterly brilliant.

What I’m saying is, this is undoubtedly one of my new favourite movies, and the fact that this only won 1 Academy Award (Best Original Screenplay) is a crime. That’s not to say that the screenplay win wasn’t deserved, and it’s not to say that One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Next didn’t deserve the domination it claimed that year, but man. This is next level stuff.

As a minor side note: Pacino not being afraid to play a gay man in 1975 is ballsy and iconic. The A in LGBTQIA+ stands for Al.

Dog Day Afternoon is available to rent on Amazon for £3.49 in the UK.

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