Re-released on Blu-ray to mark its 40th anniversary, Sidney Lumet's crime classic remains compulsive viewing, and just as timely as ever.
Based on a true story, Dog Day Afternoon chronicles a pair of would-be New York bank robbers Sonny (Al Pacino) and Sal (John Cazale) and their spectacularly unsuccessful attempt to pull off a heist. About as far from professional criminals as its possible to get, the charismatic Sonny and nervy Sal are a pair of complete fuck-ups who, thanks to a series of blunders - they're abandoned by an accomplice early on, choose a day when there's little money in the bank, and manage to alert the police to their presence - find themselves trapped in the bank, surrounded by police, the FBI and an ever-growing crowd of onlookers.
As Sonny, Pacino delivers one of his greatest performances - only The Godfather's Michael Corelone and Serpico top it (sorry, Scarface fans). He bonds with the hostages, establishes a cordial relationship with the cop (Charles Durning) tasked with ending the siege, and wins over the hostile crowd. Pacino's character is one who revels in his moment in the spotlight. The glimpses of his life away from the bank, with a failed marriage and a transsexual lover who doesn't want him, suggest that away from the bank, he has very little to live for, and he makes the most of his new-found infamy. For an actor famous for his grandstanding, Pacino also delivers in the quiet moments. It's impossible not to be moved by Sonny as he realises he may not make it out of the siege alive and starts dictating his will to one of the hostages.
Likewise, Cazele, in the less showy role, is equally impressive. More reserved and nervy than his partner, Cazale adds an unpredictable edge to the situation. We know Sonny's unlikely to snap under the pressure, but Sal is a different matter entirely. Between Dog Day Afternoon, the first two Godfather movies and The Deer Hunter, the actor gave a trio of great performances in the early 1970s, making his premature death in 1978 even more tragic.
Although the film is very much a snapshot of the social unrest of early 1970s America, for a film made in 1975, it's amazing how much Dog Day Afternoon still resonates today. Through their exploits, the pair become unlikely celebrities, with TV stations interviewing them live on air, and the entire siege is played out under the glare of cameras. Then there's the crowd gathered outside the bank, revelling in the pair's exploits, but equally happy baying for their blood. It may be set in the 1970s, but both our and the media's fascination with characters like Sonny and Sal, and our morbid fascination with crime and tragedy, are just as relevant today as they were 40 years ago.
Special Features: Director commentary / Five featurettes / Trailer
DOG DAY AFTERNOON - 40TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: SIDNEY LUMET / SCREENPLAY: FRANK PIERSON / STARRING: AL PACINO, JOHN CAZALE, CHARLES DURNING, CHRIS SARANDON / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW