Dog Day Afternoon (1975)

(On DVD, April 2017) Forty years later, there is still something remarkable about Dog Day Afternoon’s off-beat crime thriller. Based on a true story in a way that sets it apart from most formulaic fiction, this is a bank robber/hostage thriller with enough unusual moments to feel fresh even after four decades of imitators. The closest equivalent I can think of remains 2006’s Inside Man—down to the very New York feel of the story. Watching the film is a reminder of Al Pacino’s early explosive screen persona—there’s a good reason why the “Attica!” sequence will forever be part of his highlight reel. Otherwise, the stars here are the quirky screenplay (in which the lead hostage taker has numerous scenes outside the bank and a complicated personal life) and Sidney Lumet’s matter-of-fact direction. Dog Day Afternoon is a film of moments—not necessarily the predictable ending, but the way it still twists and turns familiar genre convention into something that feels real and credible. Witness, for instance, the incredible over-reaction to a single gunshot midway through the movie—a welcome change of pace after movies in which entire magazines of ammunition get emptied without as much as a shrug. It is, in other words, still a remarkably enjoyable film. It has become a great period piece, and little of its impact has been blunted by the usual Hollywood formula.

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