On August 22, 1972 John Wojtowicz tried to rob a bank. Three years later, this film told the story. Al Pacino plays Sonny, the leader of the operation. He tries to stay in control of everything, but too many variables throw him off and suddenly he’s caught in a hostage situation. Before he can even realize what he’s started, he’s all over the media and a crowd is gathering, chanting for him. When he asks for his wife, a suicidal man named Leon, whom Sonny was stealing money for his sex change operation, the situation becomes a circus.
Pacino was nominated for Best Actor as Sonny. He perfectly displays the panic, stress and having to think under pressure that can come with a hostage situation. The best part is, he doesn’t want to hurt anyone and he’s not a ruthless criminal, therefore we like him and find ourselves rooting him on. Pacino shows a great deal of charisma that we usually don’t expect with a bank robber holding innocent women hostage. He’s simple, asks for food for the people inside and when one has health issues, he asks for a doctor rather than letting risking them more harm. If I had to be held hostage, I’d pick Pacino’s Sonny as my captor.
It’s kinda fun to see how laid back the bank tellers are about being held hostage. Some of them call home giving their husbands instructions on how to cook dinner and telling them to watch for them on television. They don’t sit and cry wondering if they’ll ever see their families, they busy themselves around the office, watch TV and just talk. My absolute favorite part is when the creepy guy calls saying, “You doin’ anything to those girls you got in there?” Sonny just hands the phone to the girls who try to mess with him and start breathing real heavy into the phone. These girls aren’t scared (not most of them anyway) they’ve come straight out of the sexual revolution, and can take a little language and a hostage situation.
One of the most fascinating things about the whole film, is Sonny’s relationship with the crowd. They cheer for him, building him up and giving him the power to ask the cops to put their guns down. They practically encourage him, helping him feel like he’s got the upper hand and keeping control. Sonny seems to realize the power they hold for him too, when pizzas are delivered, he works up his charisma, pays for the pizzas, gives the delivery boy a generous tip and throws wads of cash towards the crowd, making them cheer more. The tables start to turn on him when word gets out that he’s married to a man and stealing the money for a he to she operation. This prompts gay rights activists to start chanting and marching, “Out of the closet and into the streets.” Later, when Sonny is frisking the FBI agent the crowd starts hooting and making cat calls, like the soundtrack during a long kiss in a sitcom. The crowd is the key point to anti-establishment feel to the whole film.
Honestly, compared to the crap hostage films of today (Pelham 123 anyone?), Dog Day Afternoon feels so classy, and I love that. Pacino doesn’t play a blood thirsty psychopath, it doesn’t turn into some hyper cop drama and the plot isn’t stupid. I recommend Dog Day Afternoon to anyone, there is profanity, but compared to today’s films it is pretty light. So is the violence.
“I’m a Catholic and I don’t wanna hurt anyone.”