Play It Again – Dog Day Afternoon

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By Jess Lomas
April 9, 2013

Play It Again is a weekly feature in which our classic-film connoisseurs revisit a revered motion picture from the annals of movie history, to see if it holds up… or if it has aged terribly. And yes, it takes its name from a famously misquoted Casablanca line (hey, whatever; it fits!).

There are few actors who could hold one’s attention for a two-hour film about a bank robbery; luckily for Dog Day Afternoon, Al Pacino is one of them. Of course, having director Sidney Lumet (12 Angry Men) on board, as well as screenwriter Frank Pierson (Cool Hand Luke), and actor John Cazale (The Godfather) helps immeasurably, and with their combined efforts Dog Day Afternoon stands as an impeccably crafted crime caper and time capsule of a period of distrust and unrest in America following the Vietnam War.

Pacino stars as Sonny Wortzik, who sets out with his friend Sal (Cazale) to rob a Brooklyn bank, the proceeds of which, we later discover, will go towards a sex change operation for Sonny’s second “wife,” Leon (Chris Sarandon). The heist, which should have taken ten minutes, turns into an hours-long ordeal as everything that could go wrong does. From their third accomplice backing out as the robbery begins, to the money Sonny had banked on being there having been collected before they arrived, Lumet cleverly balances the silliness and the seriousness of the scenario in an organic way.

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After the pair takes the bank manager and tellers hostage, the threat of harm against them dissolves as we see the desperation – and sweat – escalate as the police close in around them. Heading up the operation is Moretti (Charles Durning), who negotiates directly with Sonny and embodies the stereotypical police chief; overweight and choking for air as he barks order. As the public learns of the situation, and the news cameras encircle the bank, Sonny is projected as an underdog and hero, and those who come into contact with him revel in his presence.

Sonny and Sal’s story, based on real life events, is doomed to end in tragedy, and knowing their fate is not on the private jet they request, the picture becomes gripping and bittersweet. Dog Day Afternoon is gritty and unflinching in its portrait of an impoverished Brooklyn; one where the audience can feel the summer sun pounding down and can sense Sonny’s future disintegrating in front of his eyes.

5/5

Dog Day Afternoon is available on DVD and Blu-ray. It can also be streamed instantly on Quickflix Play.

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