Dog Day AfternoonFeature Film | Sidney Lumet By Josh Ralske
Lumet’s seminal crime drama effectively captures 1970s New York City.
Sidney Lumet's brilliant Dog Day Afternoon opens with a montage of lowdown 1970s Brooklyn—in all its desperate, overshadowed glory—set to an Elton John tune. There's no other music accompanying what follows, which is just one of many canny stylistic choices Lumet makes, including the unnaturally hushed use of sound at the movie's climax. Lumet doesn't get enough credit for his style, but this gritty, seminal crime film—about a disastrous attempted bank robbery that results in a long standoff with police, the media, and a boisterous crowd—encapsulates it perfectly. Recognizing the strengths of the story, which is based on an actual event, Lumet turns the tense hostage drama into a character study, focusing closely on Al Pacino as Sonny, a desperate young man resorting to robbery to pay for his boyfriend's sex change. Pacino's passionate, well-modulated performance completely eradicates any qualms '70s audiences might have had about Sonny's sexuality—first and foremost, he is a richly drawn human being. The supporting cast, including John Cazale as Sonny's slow-witted partner, Sal, is equally strong. As in all the best dramas, it truly feels that these characters have full lives beyond the screen. New York was a beleagured, broken city in the early '70s, and Lumet's gripping movie captures that era with savage wit, grace, and gravity.