Friday, September 30, 2011

Dog Day Afternoon - Movie Review

Watched this 1975 Sidney Lumet film based on a real story. Starring a very young Al Pacino who does a brilliant job as Sonny, the mastermind of the bank robbery, and a few others who look vaguely familiar, 'Dog Day Afternoon' takes you through all the emotions that real life does stating with "Is this for real?"

If the movie did not begin with a slide that said that it is based on a true story you'd be forgiven if you thought this was a Woody Allenesque take off on a bank heist. On a sleepy afternoon in New York in 1972, three men alight a car and walk into a bank, separately. Just as the bank manager is shown the business end of the gun, the youngest bank robber, resigns from his job. He does not want to do it! Sonny (Al Pacino) accepts his apologies, lets him go and returns to his other associate, the dour faced, edgy, Sal. Sonny soon finds that there is no money in the vault as it had all been picked up a few hours ago. He collects the 1100 dollars, some travellers cheques and burns the register. The smoke catches the attention of the passersby. Seeing the two inexperienced bank robbers at work the bank staff start asking them if they really had a plan to start with. At this stage you do not know if you want to laugh or what.

Soon the bank is surrounded by policemen. The bank manager is not impressed. He tells the duo that they should have left when he told them to. Now there are cops, hostages etc. Enter police inspector Morretti who tries to smooth talk and scare Sonny into giving up. But Sonny is not. He plays the crowd by shouting 'Attica. Attica' reminding them of the prison breakout in Attica which cost 39 lives. He and Sal are Vietnam war veterans. They are on television, live. The FBI steps in. The bank employees start falling sick. First the watchman collapses and is let out. Then the diabetic bank manager has an attack. Sonny gets them some food, and even offers to pay for the pizza from the bank notes! That is how naive he is.

Sonny wants to talk to his wife who turns out to be a man, under treatment for some nervous disorder in a hospital. They are a gay couple that got married. Sonny's 'wife' reveals that he has another wife and two kids! And that Sonny threatened and scared him so much that he has a break down. But the money Sonny was stealing was for his 'sex change operation'! Sonny speaks to his 'wife' after he makes his demands known to the police. He wants a helicopter to take him to a jet which can fly him anywhere in the world. Would his 'wife' join him? No, says the wife.

Sonny's mother appears and tries to persuade him to give up. Sonny tells her to go away. He speaks to his real wife, makes his will in case he dies and writes out how his life insurance money of 10,000 dollars must be used up - 2700 dollars to his 'wife' for the operation, 5000 for his real wife and so on. He holds the hostages in place and gets them on a limousine that takes them to the airport. Just as the jet is arriving, the FBI overpowers them, shoots Sal in the head and releases the hostages. Sonny breaks down as he sees Sal, who is scared of flying and who has never flown before, being taken away. He sees the bank employees with whom he was so friendly a while ago celebrating and then he is hauled off to jail for twenty years.

'Dog Day Afternoon' leaves you in a state of shock because it is so real. This is how many things are played out in real life. With fear, comedy, tragedy all thrown in and less of heroics. It was also made at a time when public sentiment against the Vietnam war was high. Sonny and Sal were both Vietnam war veterans who never recovered. Al Pacino is brilliant as he plays Sonny and you cannot take your eyes off him for a second as he handles the pressure of leading the botched up operation with his limited abilities and knowledge. (It is amazing to hear the conversations as the bank employees try to help these two - what will you tell the pilot? where do you wnat to go? Algiers?)

It is disturbing to say the least. Apparently the real Sonny went to jail and was released in 1992 probably, lived till 2006, when he died of cancer. His 'wife' had her sex change operation and continues to live in New York. Sal, though portrayed as an older man, was only 19 when he died. The real Sonny wrote a letter to newspapers later to set right a few facts, and that the movie was only 30% true. He however had good words for Al Pacino's performance! DDA won an Academy Award and deservedly so. Fantastic!

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