When it rains the rain falls down
Sidney Lumet is the master of the single location narrative and with the aid of screenwriter Frank Pierson he is able to capture the same intensity, suspense, characterisation and intoxicating dialogue of his earlier classic 12 Angry Men.
Based on real life events, and sourced from a Life Magazine article, the story is told within a real-time structure. While the fervent and increasingly comical situations the spontaneous first-time crooks encounter are gripping, there are few too many needless cutaways interspersed throughout the narrative that unfortunately create a sluggish pace.
Lumet’s film and its central protagonist are typical of the late sixties and seventies. In an era of heavy opposition to the Vietnam War, many films focussed on returning veterans who were left with little chance of a job, mentally scarred by their war-time experiences and feeling betrayed by their nation. Al Pacino’s powerful performance as Sonny Wortzik shares similar traits with the protagonists from Taxi Driver, First Blood and Rolling Thunder. However, where these other heroes used their combat training as a weapon to fight the antagonists within their own country, the conflicted Sonny is more realistically driven to criminality.
It is however, John Cazale who steals the show with a heartbreaking performance as Sonny’s volatile and vulnerable partner in crime Sal. Where Sonny is overt with his rage towards his country in the form of explosive anti-establishment outbursts, there is a great sadness that surrounds Sal. This fantastic performance further highlights the great shame of his career as an actor whose face is instantly recognisable, but name is constantly forgotten.
From the opening montage that establishes an ordinary day in Brooklyn to the various tête-à-têtes with police officers, Dog Day Afternoon doesn’t quite match the quality of his earlier masterpiece but gives increased justification for him becoming one of my favourite filmmakers.