“It’s your job, right? The guy who kills me… I hope he does it because he hates my guts, not because it’s his job.”
They say truth is stranger than fiction, but you honestly don’t see that a lot. Most of the time, when I hear someone say truth is stranger than fiction, I just assume they don’t read a lot. Dog Day Afternoon captures that notion brilliantly, though, by telling the real-life story of a bank robbery more absurd than any heist movie I’ve ever seen. Directed by Sidney Lumet (12 Angry Men, Murder on the Orient Express) and starring Al Pacino and John Cazale, this film captures, almost in real time, a bank robbery as entertaining as they come. You’ll see a crime become a media circus. You’ll see a criminal become a folk hero. You’ll see what could be a very cliched and overdone plot made fresh—more so than most heist movies today—by a string of bizarre details about the culprits and situation. It’s smart, funny, and gripping, and it’s definitely the most entertaining heist movie I’ve ever seen.
I ordinarily give a brief synopsis of the plot here, but I’m not going to give away too much. I went into this movie blind, and that’s absolutely the best way to do it. It focuses on a bank robbery. There are some fairly absurd real-life details that emerge and plenty of humor, but this all feels much more down-to-earth than you’d expect from a heist movie with some absurdities.
I bark. See that man there? See him? He bites.
This film is based on a real story, and it shows. Director Sidney Lumet took many steps to make this feel real, unlike just about any other heist movie. In a typical movie, bullets would be flying; in real life, and in this film, any shots fired are a huge deal that disrupt everything. The dialogue was mostly improvised by the actors, true to the original structure of the plot but completely natural to the actors. The main character, Sonny, has some very interesting character traits, and none of them are shoved down our throat, none of them define the character as they would other films. The opening minutes of the movie, with the awkward stickup and general bumbling around, are a lot closer to a real bank robbery than what you typically see. Reality wasn’t necessarily the point—telling a great story was—but this definitely feels different than your typical Hollywood movie, and especially your typical heist movie, and that makes this very, very interesting. I don’t know that I’ll ever watch another heist movie without thinking about how things would really go down in real life, and it’s thanks to this movie.
But don’t let the realism suggest to you that this is a dry film. Dog Day Afternoon is a lot of fun—sharp, witty, and at times hilarious. Sonny becomes this sort of everyman hero, standing up against police brutality and calling out society for making it tough to support a family. He treats his “victims” with nothing but the utmost respect. They all develop a good case of Stockholm Syndrome, and the audience does too. You will cheer for this guy, and worry about his safety when the tensions start rising. As I said, I went into this film mostly blind, expecting something close to a Scorsese crime film, but was blown away by how much joy it brought me.
Dog Day Afternoon is a great film full of admirable characters, all-too-real tension, and some hilarious dialogue as well. It’s rated R, mostly for language, but I’d have no problem recommending this to teenagers and adults of all ages. If you’re a fan of the heist genre, this is a must-see film.
Director: Sidney Lumet
Genres: crime, drama