Starring: Al Pacino, John Cazale, Penelope Allen
Director: Sidney Lumet
Running Time: 124 mins
Dog Day Afternoon is an American film about a trio of men who plan a robbery at a small Brooklyn bank, but their initially simple plan soon goes awry and spirals wildly out of control.
Very much a film of two halves, Dog Day Afternoon starts off as a surprisingly fun crime thriller with a dark sense of humour, before later delving into a much more serious and audacious story with a significance that stretches far beyond the four walls of a bank under siege.
Before we get into that, however, let’s talk about the performances here: all of which are absolutely fantastic. In the lead role, Al Pacino is amazing, proving a hugely likable and layered bank robber with absolutely no proficiency for the profession, while John Cazale impresses alongside him with a quiet but still captivating supporting performance.
Meanwhile, secondary players including Penelope Allen, who plays one of the robbers’ hostages, as well as Charles Durning as the negotiator, prove spectacular alongside Pacino’s already fantastic leading performance, bringing wonderful energy to their characters that breaks all the tropes of the genre.
What you have from the start, then, is a film about a bank robbery that’s nothing like what you’re used to. It gets underway very quickly, and looks set to finish within the first twenty minutes, before things start to gradually unravel.
From the incompetence of the robbers to the darkly hilarious calmness and confidence of the hostages, knowing they’re protected by insurance, the normal nail-biting tension that you might expect from this kind of story isn’t what makes Dog Day Afternoon such a captivating watch.
Rather, it’s a blend of what starts out as a darkly entertaining spin on the typical bank robbery story, with brilliantly-developed characters and emotional depth that bring a whole new level of drama to the table as the story progresses.
Sidney Lumet doesn’t direct this movie with the breakneck pacing you might expect, and although there are moments where Dog Day Afternoon can drag, there are also times when that slower, patient approach works wonders for the film’s most serious and powerful scenes.
Spiralling wildly out of control, Lumet soon turns the botched bank robbery into an ingenious microcosm of modern society, delving deep into the fears and troubles of all characters – on both sides of the law – with a captivating and enjoyable anti-establishment streak.
I wouldn’t wish to spoil anything for you, but suffice to say that Dog Day Afternoon does not unfold like the bank robbery and hostage negotiation story you’re expecting. It may look like one on the outside, but there’s far more at play under the surface, and Lumet makes it a fascinating watch from start to finish.
So, with fantastic performances across the board, great directing, gripping drama, a dark sense of humour and a clever spin on a classic story, Dog Day Afternoon is a brilliant watch throughout, and far more than just another bank robbery. That’s why I’m giving it a 7.7 overall.