If you were to ask me point blank what my favourite film of all time was then the answer would probably be 12 Angry Men. It’s one of those films that I could just watch over and over again while it’s also incredibly well-made. Shockingly, I’ve watched very few of director Sidney Lumet’s other films and that’s one mistake I’ve been able to correct with the help of this blog. The next two posts will see me review two of Lumet’s films both of which were nominated for Best Picture during the 1970s.
One of the things that makes 12 Angry Men so effective is that it’s almost entirely set in the jury room and I felt the same way about Dog Day Afternoon. Though it’s not restricted to one setting, Dog Day Afternoon is almost wholly set in and around a bank that is being robbed. The film begins with Sal and Sonny robbing a bank and attempting to commit the crime without being caught. Things soon go awry when they discover that there’s hardly any money left in the bank and instead decides to steal a bunch of traveller’s cheques. However, as Sonny tries to burn off the bank’s register on the cheques, smoke starts to billow from the bank which in turn alerts locals that something’s not right at the bank. Soon the pair are discovered and the police descend on the bank and, as they attempt to diffuse the situation, we learn more about our central pair. As Sonny is the man that the police are in constant contact with, he comes out of the bank on several occasions to talk to Detective Moretti, the policeman in charge of handling the hostage situation. Sonny soon becomes a local hero as he is attempting to stand up for the common man. Sonny later becomes a gay icon as we discover he married a man in a secret ceremony and has robbed the bank in order to pay for his wife Leon’s sexual reassignment surgery. However, Leon is less than thrilled with this revelation and it seems as if he’s been trying to escape Sonny for years. Meanwhile, the more menacing Sal is getting increasingly agitated as he doesn’t really care for Sonny’s flamboyance and his need to be a friend to all of their hostages. Soon, the stage is set for the final act in which Sonny and Sal attempt to escape, while the police endeavour to stop them.
I found Dog Day Afternoon to be a slow burning story that took its time to develop. It was only after Moretti and his team arrived that I really started to get involved in the film. Lumet and writer Frank Piersen create an intriguing anti-hero in Sonny, a character who we begin to learn more of once the hostage situation is in full swing. Throughout the film our perception of Sonny changes as we learn that, in an odd sort of way, he’s trying to do the best for everyone. The character of Sal is more interesting, as we have to make our own minds up about him, and he really isn’t as in your face as Sonny is. The pairing of Al Pacino and John Cazale is a great one and their loud and calm double act contrasts their roles in The Godfather films. I found Pacino to be more captivating here than he was in The Godfather films and I found that the character of Sonny really tested him. Meanwhile Chris Sarandon was brilliant in his handful of scenes as Leon, the pre-op transsexual who wanted nothing to do with his new husband. The claustrophobic nature of the over-heated bank added to the tense feel of the film as Sonny started to lose his head. As I’d never seen the film before, I have to admit that the final sequence had me on the edge of my seat. I felt that Dog Day Afternoon perfectly enforced my views that Lumet is an assured director who gets the best out of his actors and utilises his setting to full effect.