Updated: Feb 16, 2020
Nominee #4 - Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
When a man decides to rob a bank to pay for his lover's operation, it turns into a hostage situation and everybody is watching.
Frank Pierson (screenplay)
Winner of the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, Dog Day Afternoon (1975) - directed by Sidney Lumet and written by Frank Pierson - was inspired by the 1972 robbery of a Brooklyn bank by John Wojtowicz and Salvatore Naturale.
Starring Al Pacino, John Cazale, Charles Durning, Chris Sarandon, Penelope Allen, James Broderick, Lance Henriksen and Carol Kane, the movie moves from bank heist gone wrong to a hostage drama with the attendant media circus. Of course, there was no real chance of this heist ending in success. One of the three robbers pulls out just at the last minute. They arrive at the bank after the daily cash pick up (leaving them with little to actually steal!). And find themselves surrounded by the cops in no time. But even as some of the onlookers (and TV viewers) begin to sympathise with the hostage-takers on a stifling hot summer afternoon, the hostages, a pizza delivery guy (dropping pizza off to the hostages) and the main hostage-taker find themselves behaving against type under the glare of the TV lights.
Al Pacino, as the main bank robber/hostage-taker, delivers a searingly intense, edgy and desperate performance as he negotiates with the cops, connects with the crowds of onlookers and senses the all-pervading futility which envelopes this extraordinary story of everyday people under stress. The rest of the cast are also spot on.
In 1970s America, this anti-establishment tale of underdogs resonated with both audiences and critics. Pacino’s defiant cry “Attica, Attica” – referring to the notorious Attica Prison riot of 1971 – effectively captured the frustration and anger simmering amongst those with the odds stacked against them.
Lumet could very easily have fallen into the trap of flicking the obvious crowd-pleasing switches in a typical heist drama (the crack team, the meticulous plan, formidable obstacles in breaking into the stronghold, pulse-pounding action or a specular triumph for the underdogs). But to his great credit, his naturalistic and humane approach to storytelling ensures that Dog Day Afternoon remains amongst the most truthful and poignant commentaries on ordinary people under extraordinary circumstances.