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Dog Day Afternoon
1975 - R - 124 Mins.
Director: Sidney Lumet
Producer: Martin Bregman
Written By: Frank Pierson (based on articles)
Starring: Al Pacino, Charles Durning, John Cazale, James Broderick, Chris Sarandon
Review by: John Ulmer
   

Ah! I'm morphing into Dustin Hoffman!
By the time Sidney Lumet's "Dog Day Afternoon" came around he had already learned to let Al Pacino loose. Forget the holdbacks of "Serpico"; here we get a glimpse into the real Al, the actor who would bring Tony Montana to life in the years to come and the same man who provided Michael Corleone with such heartfelt warmth that was lacking in some of his lesser characters.

There's essentially the Al Pacino as an actor and the Al Pacino as a character, and here he's the character, and it works splendidly. Al Pacino the actor comes into play when he is given a recycled script and a talentless director, which has been happening a lot lately, although fortunately his comparison, De Niro, has been lucky enough to generally avoid these blunders of older-age filmmaking.

This is based on a true story, like "Serpico," only it's better and more involving. It connects with the audience more than "Serpico" because it doesn't jump through the same old hoops; it goes for the long trek and comes off better than it would have had the team behind it been lazy. The clichés are gone and the originality creeps in early on. Watch Pacino indulge himself in character and let the plot sink in. It's more touching than it seems at first.

Pacino is Sonny Wortzik, a Brooklyn man who takes a bank hostage in order to pay for his "wife's" operation. The wife is actually Leon Shermer (Chris Sarandon who was Oscar-nominated for this, his first role in a mainstream film), Sonny's gay lover who doesn't have the money for a sex operation.

The bank robbery was going to be what one of classic cinema's greatest bad guys once described as a quick "in and out," but Sonny gets held up inside the bank and soon he's all over the news and police are standing outside the building with guns drawn. It's like Denzel's movie only better and more original. Oh, and true. This one actually happened and we can tell.

Sonny's partner in crime, Sal (John Cazale), is worried that he'll be treated as a homosexual by the media outside. His fretting is comic relief and one of the connections between the film and the audience. Charles Durning is the frustrated cop handling the situation. His performance is as subtly convincing as Cavale's.

Pacino's performance is exceedingly excellent, manic and energetic. He'd display this same talent in "Scarface" again eight years later; only he would be bashed by the critics for going over-the-top. (Although they really just had problems with the excessive profanity and violence, just like Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" will soon become a well-known classic and people will laugh when they hear that someone once called it the most violent film ever made.)

There's also one of the best scenes of all time in this movie that rivals Montana's Last Stand in "Scarface" or the Baptism Scene in "The Godfather," which involves Sonny speaking on the phone to his "wife," carefully concealing his motive from any listeners nearby. Watch Pacino delve into character here and you're immediately hooked. We like his character because he seems real and Pacino makes him real, and that's why this will go down as one of the best tour de force performances of all time.

Is this Hollywood trying to ease our culture onto homosexuality and sex change operations? Is Hollywood trying to gradually introduce us to gay characters in the hope that the uptight American families will be increasingly invaded by the images of gay men? No. This is Hollywood showing us a true story, regardless of the homosexuality. Pacino could be playing a frustrated postal worker and it would still work because it all settles down to the fact that the suspense and dramatics of the movie affect us, not the background of its characters.

Sarandon's Oscar nomination was more than worthy; here he displays the smarmy talent that would shine through in his characters in the years to come. Prince Humperdink from "The Princess Bride" is equally memorable but less realistic. Here he seems more real, which is good for this film and would have been quite bad for "Bride." We don't like real characters in fantasy tales, do we?

Lumet, who ruined "Serpico" with his bad editing, out-of-place music, clichéd dialogue/events and unnecessary scenes, directs "Dog Day Afternoon" with style and flair and good pacing and a surprisingly heartfelt sense of emotion and care. This isn't exactly a good example of a perfect motion picture but it's pretty close.
 
Movie Guru Rating
An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant.
  4.5 out of 5 stars

 
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