This is it! The third season of The Film Experience’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” series ends tonight with a bang, not a whimper, courtesy of Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon (1975). (Thankfully, HMWYBS will return in 2013.) Dog Day Afternoon’s not necessarily what I’d call a “beautiful” movie, but it is a sensational one in every sense of the word. In its efforts to recreate a failed 1972 bank robbery, the film brings a whole city block to life—sweaty, colorful life—and it’s teeming with dense, jagged shots of the bank’s interior. Shots like the one above.
I love the visual zigzagging here, from Sonny (Al Pacino) to his gun-toting accomplice Sal (John Cazale) to the bank manager behind him, and how we’re vaguely aware of background details like the flag and those blinding fluorescent lights, but the focus is squarely on Pacino and his disbelief. He’s supposed to be robbing a bank, for chrissakes, but what are the words coming out of his mouth?
All right, who has—who has to the go to the bathroom here?
It’s that sad, funny clash between efficiently committing a crime and being a basically decent human being.
I’m also a fan of this aerial shot from Sonny’s first showdown with the cops. This is the moment he goes from “bumbling crook” to Brooklyn folk hero, using hostage negotiations as an antiauthoritarian soapbox. He’s switched from shouting “Attica! Attica!” to “Put the fucking guns down!” and now a more general, frothing-at-the-mouth cry of “You got it, man! You got it!” Pacino struts and twitches like a bug-eyed rooster, his gestures so huge and angry that we can read them from the air. The shot reveals a growing ring of cops around the bank, but he’s unafraid. For once, the lone Vietnam vet has all the power.
But this is my favorite shot in Dog Day Afternoon. It’s right after Sonny’s first phone call with Sgt. Moretti, when he learns that cops have him “completely by the balls.” As the movie’s tagline says, “The robbery should have taken ten minutes”; now it’s developing into a stand-off with no obvious end game other than Sonny’s arrest or death. The news overwhelms him. He slumps to the floor. (And Sal, taking a cue from Sonny’s desperation, immediately does the same.)
The rest of the movie gives us shot after shot of a sweaty, exhausted Pacino. But this is his first breaking point, before he has a chance to get up and be re-broken. His first glimpse of how fucked he is, and how long he’s going to be cooped up in this sweltering bank. The shot makes satisfying use the bank’s architecture, too: that ugly gray flooring on either side of Pacino, and the column mercifully propping him up. This is his workplace now—his crime scene, his cage.
Head in hand, Sonny’s a one-man Pietà. And his troubles have only just begun.