USA, 1975, 125 min
The bank heist movie to end all bank heist movies, Dog Day Afternoon leaves the hardened action criminals behind and gives us Sonny (Al Pacino in one of his greatest roles), a neurotic yet sensitive first-time crook who holds up a Brooklyn bank for unexpected reasons of his own. As hordes of police, reporters and riotous masses convene around the bank, the heist becomes a media sensation, with everyone from bystanders to the hostages themselves vying for their 15 minutes of fame. Epitomizing the political atmosphere of 1970s social discontent (Sonny’s “Attica! Attica!” rant referencing the 1971 prison massacre is legendary), the film also gives us access to multilayered characters: As negotiations heat up outside, Sonny and partner-in-crime Sal (played by Pacino’s Godfather costar John Cazale) establish a strange rapport with their hostages. Screenwriter Frank Pierson (this year’s Kanbar Award recipient) took inspiration from a Life magazine article in creating a complex masterpiece as nuanced as it is gripping, in which the nature of Sonny’s crime and the audience’s allegiances are continually challenged. Pierson and director Sidney Lumet treat their characters seriously but allow an absurdist humor to erupt naturally out of the palpable air of midsummer desperation. Nominated for six Oscars (including Al Pacino for Best Actor) and winner of Best Original Screenplay for Pierson, Dog Day Afternoon is a defining film in American cinema.
Dog Day Afternoon screens as part of SFIFF54's Kanbar Award program, An Afternoon with Frank Pierson.