Friday, February 10, 2012

30 Days of Oscar Day 16: Dog Day Afternoon

* Sorry this is late, a cold has knocked me back a bit and I just forgot to post after I saw this yesterday.  There will be 2 today.

Movie: Dog Day Afternoon
Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director - Sidney Lumet, Best Actor - Al Pacino, Best Supporting Actor - Chris Sarandon,  Editing, Original Screenplay - Frank Pierson

Wins/Snubs: Original Screenplay won - though since this is based on real events, I have a bit of a beef with that. This was also the year that One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (which I saw last year for this feature) ran the table picking up all the major awards.  

This movie has thus far lived in my "blind spot".  I knew the plot, I knew the actors, I knew the hype, but I'd never seen it.  So I'm pretty sure it felt victim to heightened expectations because it was good, but sadly didn't feel like anything particularly terrific.  However, one of the reasons for doing this particularly feature is to look at the films in the context of when they came out to see what they added to the field of film.  And in that spirit, this movie is pretty amazing. 

Sonny (Al Pacino) and Sal (John Cazale) go into a bank in Brooklyn at closing and plan to rob it.  They have a fairly simple plan with guns and running out before anyone catches them.  Sadly, they got some key information wrong and arrived AFTER nearly all the money was removed from the bank.  This throws their plan off a bit, and Sonny lights a garbage can on fire and the smoke starts to alert neighbors.  Pretty quickly the whole scheme devolves into chaos - with lots of police (led by Charles Durning), the FBI and of course the media.  However, Sonny isn't a bad guy - he doesn't hurt anyone, and is willing to deal with Durning to get the hostages from the bank safely out - which the media likes and soon everyone seems to be on Sonny's side.  He and Sal are just trying to get away at this point and ask for a limo to go to a jet to get away.  Before they go, Sonny just wants to see his wife - and they cops go to find Chris Sarandon.  It turns out Sonny wanted to rob the bank to get enough money ($2500) to get Chris a sex-change.  This becomes media fodder really quickly, and the gay community also rallies around them.  As with most heist films, this doesn't end well for our leads.  

I don't think I could say that Pacino deserved the Oscar more than Nicholson for Cuckoo, but he did do a great job being likeable and made it believable that he'd risk everything for his "wife" Leon.  I imagine the big reveal that Sonny is gay was a much bigger deal in 1975, so it falls a bit flat in 2012.  And I'm pretty shocked that Chris Sarandon got a nomination - his part is relatively small, and he plays a transsexual very drugged and passive.   I'm glad I've now seen this movie - it is a great heist film that you can tell others have tried to imitate in many lesser films.  


Ryan McNeil said...

Sorta surprised you skipped past one of my favorite things about the films - John Cazale as Sal.

Here's a guy who seems difficult to read, especially in comparison to Sonny. He acts very courteous and polite towards his hostages, and yet seems like his finger will go for the trigger faster than Sonny's will.

I've always loved him in this film...but then again, I love him in every film he made in the 70's.

Jess said...

Oh - that was an oversight. I meant to finish my discussion of it being odd that Chris Sarandon was nominated, but not John Cazale - I thought he was awesome. And since I knew the story, but not the specifics, I kept waiting to see the relationship between Sal and Sonny. But I still liked the job he did in this very much. Much too short a career.

Dave Enkosky said...

I am such a hardcore fan of this movie that I tend to be baffled when others don't love it as much as I do. Of course, I saw this a lot when I was a kid, and I think we tend to place greater value on the movies we loved as kids.

And I actually think Pacino's performance here is outstanding, at least compared to his performances of the last few decades.

Jess said...

Dave - I do like Pacino's performance here more than much of what he's done lately. He seemed to narrow his performances so much that he plays the same person in everything now. Back in the 70s he was still willing to act in very different roles - particularly this one. I just think Jack did an even better job with Cuckoo than Pacino did here.

Dariru said...

I think this film holds up very well, even today. I can imagine at the time some of the 'homosexual' elements may have been shocking (while today those elements are almost required), but I think the film is riveting without that shock factor. A lot of it I'd attribute to Pacino and Lumet. Great film!