1975 // USA // Sidney Lumet // January 21, 2010 // Theatrical Print (Webster University Moore Auditorium)
[Dog Day Afternoon was screened on January 21-23, 2010 as a part of the Webster University Film Series' retrospective on the films of actor John Cazale.]
Perhaps it's a bit discourteous to dwell on Al Pacino's presence in a film that was screened to celebrate the lamentably brief, searingly vital career of John Cazale. To be sure, Cazale's Sal provides a crucial counterpoint to Pacino's Sonny: simmering with limp anxiety, Sal seems to be genuinely tormented by the moral dimensions of their bank heist-turned-fiasco, but he also seems to harbor a deeper, more ominous ugliness in his soul than the hot-blooded Sonny. (Witness Sal's curiously menacing and self-righteous scolding of Penelope Allen's teller when she elects to indulge in a cigarette.) Still, I keep returning to how novel Sonny is as a character in the arc of Pacino's career: He possesses the characteristic brashness that we expect from the actor, but none of the self-possession, none of the bellowing, monarchical vanity that colors even the moments of out-of-control helplessness in his signature roles. Sonny is, in a word, lost, and the wide, darting eyes, twitching mouth, and short-guy strut that are the actor's stock and trade here seem like the reflexes of a man stretched so thin he can no longer tell authenticity from artifice. (Which, of course, is of a piece with the film's fascination with the theater of mass media "news".) Sonny's sole moment of calm certainty comes when he dictates his will, which he does with the kind of fatalism and unassuming emotion that seems pitch-perfect for a Brooklyn Catholic. And yet, his fearful utterance later in the film--"Please don't kill me!"--betrays a man who is not ready to die, who made out his will because, perhaps, that's what he assumed a bank robber in a standoff with police should do.