It's an August afternoon in New York and a bank is closing to customers for the day, but something will happen to keep it open as three men enter the premises. First Sal (John Cazale) takes a form over to the desk of the manager (Sully Boyar) and sits down; he is followed by Sonny (Al Pacino) and Stevie (Gary Springer), both carrying guns. Sonny starts shouting that this is a bank robbery and everyone should do as he says - to begin with it seems as if his gang are fairly well organised, but Stevie gets cold feet when asked to point his revolver at the security guard and walks out, returning briefly to draw Sonny's attention to the woman under a desk by the window. Then Sonny instructs the manager to open the vault and one of the staff to fill his bag with cash... but there's a problem.
The first of many, as it turns out. This painfully funny drama had a script written by Frank Pierson, for which he won an Oscar, and was based on a magazine article about the robbery which really happened in August 1972. If you'd heard the story before then the tragic outcome of the situation wouldn't surprise you, and after spending fifteen minutes in the would-be master criminals' company you probably won't be surprised at the outcome anyway, but the film remains compelling due to the terrific performances, particularly a powerhouse Pacino, and the escalation of the increasingly difficult to believe events - so unlikely that they could only be true.
Due to Sonny burning the register after finding out there is hardly any money in the vault and having to raid the cash tills, a man across the street is alerted when he sees smoke drifting from an air vent. The manager is ordered to send him away reassured, but within minutes the police have arrived and have surrounded the bank with a surplus of snipers and patrolmen, each of them itching to get a clear shot at the bad guys. Next to arrive are the media, all eager to get a piece of the story and heightening the general tension. And all the while the passersby and sightseers crowd around, whooping with delight every time Sonny makes an appearance through the front doors.
The man he's negotiating with is Detective Sergeant Moretti (Charles Durning, excellent), who becomes the sympathetic face of the law while trying to get Sonny and Sal to release their hostages. Every little detail is designed to aggravate Sonny, from the botched robbery down to crank calls telling him to kill all the staff. But it's clear that Sonny could never kill anyone, he is, as he tells his mother, "a fuck-up" and his desperate wish to get a helicopter to pick up himself and the fatally nervous Sal and take them to the airport to catch a jet plane to Algeria simply sounds ridiculous and clutching at straws. It's the injustice of a set-up with no palatable solution that causes the film to stay in the mind.
As the plot unfolds, Dog Day Afternoon appears to be presenting the theme that society's reaction to troubled men like Sonny, who is not a career criminal, is the equivalent of swatting a fly with a rocket launcher. As we find out more of his background, we realise that everyone he knows, from his family to his lover, drive him completely up the wall, and this robbery is the last futile act of a hopeless case. The film is carried by its actors, especially the remarkable Pacino, so by the time the stony-faced F.B.I. show up on the scene we know enough to foresee how things will turn out. Strangely, Sonny and the pathetic Sal are the heroes here, and you feel sorry for them when it all goes horribly wrong, but the character business verges on being the film's downfall, slowing the story to a snail's pace (did we really need the will dictation?). Luckily there are enough bitter laughs to make it absorbing in the main.
Esteemed American director who after a background in theatre moved into television from where he went on to be the five times Oscar nominated filmmaker behind some of the most intelligent films ever to come out of America. His 1957 debut for the big screen, 12 Angry Men, is still a landmark, and he proceeded to electrify and engross cinema audiences with The Fugitive Kind, The Pawnbroker, Cold War drama Fail-Safe, The Hill, The Group, The Deadly Affair, The Offence, definitive cop corruption drama Serpico, Murder on the Orient Express, Dog Day Afternoon (another great Al Pacino role), Network, Equus, Prince of the City, Deathtrap, The Verdict, Running On Empty and his final film, 2007's Before the Devil Knows You're Dead. Often working in the UK, he also brought his adopted home town of New York to films, an indelible part of its movies for the best part of fifty years.