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Dog Day Afternoon is the tense, yet comical tale of John Wojtowicz and Salvatore Naturale attempt to rob the First Brooklyn Savings Bank. The films tagline “The robbery should have taken ten minutes. Eight hours later, It was the hottest thing on live TV.” Gives you a sense that this heist isn’t going to go as planned. Released in 1975 by Warner Bros, the film was based off a real-life robbery in Brooklyn in 1972. The screenplay was written by Frank Pierson, winning him an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.
Directed by Sidney Lumet and stars Al Pacino as Wojtowicz and John Cazale as Naturale, who together starred in The Godfather: Part ll the year before. The film had a budget of $1.8 million and due to the critical acclaim, it did well commercially making $50 million at the box office.
Apart from the Oscar win for the screenplay, it was nominated for Best Picture, Best Leading Actor for Pacino, Best Supporting Actor for Chris Sarandon who was Wojtowicz lover, Best Director for Lumet, and Best Film Editing for Dede Allen.
Its safe to say this film was a success in all aspects of its release. The film kept me on the edge of my seat whether it was from the tension building up or from the laughter of the mistakes the robbers kept making. I was highly entertained throughout the entire picture. Looking at the production I read that most of the dialogue was improvised namely from Pacino and Charles Durning who played Detective Eugene Moretti.
Most, if not all their shared scenes were hilarious, especially when they first meet face to face and the responses Moretti has when Woltowicz is stating his demands.
About half way through the film there is a twist that reveals that Wojtowicz is attempting the heist to pay for his lover Leons’ sex change. Leon is played by Chris Sarandon and this adds a layer of depth to the film and complexity to Pacino’s character since he isn’t just doing this for the money or fame he receives, but for his lover who both feel isolated due to how homosexuality was viewed in the 70’s. Which I found interesting and, in my opinion, sets this film apart from the typical heist film released before and even decades after. Dog Day Afternoon is a Crime, Drama and Thriller which is fitting for a story such as this. Photographed by Victor J Kemper it has some interesting cinematography choices. A scene in particular that I enjoyed was when Wojtowicz steps outside of the bank to “see what he’s up against” the camera switches from a dolly to a handheld making the picture a bit shaky.
I took that as the cinematographer showing the uneasy emotion that Woltowicz is feeling because he is clearly out numbered and way over his head. Also, he relied mostly on naturally available light, since this was filmed On Location he used the florescent lights part of the building for the indoor scenes and sunlight for the outside scenes. There isn’t much of a score in the film only about two or three songs that play that are all diegetic coming from radios in the car and the bank. Director Sidney Lumet did a fantastic job keeping the story compact and getting the most out of the actors by having them improvise key plot scenes in the film. This worked in favor for the aforementioned Pacino and Durning scenes keeping Pacino in high stakes through the entire film. I believe this is one of the most compelling Pacino performances because I really felt his frustration all throughout and sympathized for him.
Other than telling this remarkable story I believe that the films statement was to point out how the mass media and the public sometimes make criminals or ‘bad people’ famous. All throughout the film we see people outside cheering for Wojtowicz and booing at the police force. Which is interesting because it flips the protagonist and the antagonist roles of the story. Instead of your typical good versus evil, we see the robbers become the protagonist and the police taking on the antagonistic role. Also, I believe that this is making a statement on the way homosexuality was viewed in the 70’s. They were portrayed as outsiders in the film, because that’s how reality was up until recently. This was a great social commentary for an already outstanding film, that carried strong throughout the decades since its release
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