Analysis of Dog Day Afternoon (Sidney Lumet, 1975);
Dog Day Afternoon is a 1975 film written by Frank Pierson and directed by Sidney Lumet. It is among the most captivating films of its time as it stars some of the greatest movie stars of the period. They include Al Pacino, John Cazale, Chris Sarandon, Carol Kane and Charles Durning. The title of the film means the dog days of summer, which refers to the time when the movie is shot. The most inspiring part of this film is that, it is based on a true story. It is based on an article that appeared on the Life magazine in 1972. The characters in this film try to recreate the happenings of August 22, 1972. The director of this film has successfully created a very dramatic and captivating movie that appeals to people who love robbery films. The choice of characters for this film is perfect as they create a situation that is similar to what we expect in a real life situation.
The movie is filmed on a hot summer afternoon when the robbery is planned to take place. The main characters in this film are Sonny Wortzik, Sal, detective Moretti, Bank Manager Mulvaney and Leon (Connolly 139). The story is all about Sonny and his friend Sal who attempt to rob a bank. They are inexperienced since this is their first crime. This gives the audience a feeling that the robbery might go wrong at any time. This is soon made true by the way their accomplice gets restless when Sal pulls out his gun. The director gives us a preview of what is going to happen because Sonny has to let him go. This is a danger to their crime because he could call the police or tell someone that a robbery is in progress. Another problem soon arises because there is very little money in the bank. Sonny is disgusted by this and takes some traveler’s checks to try and get some more money. He knows that the checks can be traced and he tries to subvert this by burning the register. The smoke attracts attention of other people who report the matter and soon police arrive at the scene. The director is very candid in his approach to the wrong sides of this robbery. He gives so many issues that result in the downfall of the robbery.
On discovering that they are surrounded by the police, Sally has no option but to take all the workers as hostages. This decision is the beginning of the two robbers encounter with the police. At this point, the director gives the audience a chance to choose how the movie will end. There is a thin possibility that the two friends may free themselves from this situation or they might be arrested. Detective Moretti is then introduced. He is the lead detective and conducts the negotiations with Sonny. Sal is not for the idea of killing the hostages and is scared when Sonny says that they will kill people if anyone enters the bank. There is also Agent Sheldon who is monitoring the situation from outside. The director shows us the soft side of Sonny by his release of the security guard who is suffering from an asthma attack ( Lumet and Cunningham 57). This is a sign that it is not his desire for anyone to be killed in this incidence. Sonny soon starts to make demands from the Detective Moretti for their escape. Firstly, he asks for a helicopter, which is not possible to land on this building according to the detective. He then asks for a vehicle to drive him to the airport. The director also creates ironic humor by the demand by Sonny that pizza be brought for all the hostages. It is ironic that Sonny can still think of food even at such a tense moment. Sonny want his wife Leon-a transsexual, be brought to the bank. The audience empathizes with Sonny on discovering that one reason behind this robbery is to get money for Leon’s surgery. The conversation between Sonny and Leon is meant to give the audience a feel of the kind of relationship that exists between them and it is sad when Leon refuses to join Sonny in the escape. In another attempt by the police to convince Sonny to let the hostages go, they bring his mother to the scene. Her convincing talk does not help his arrogant behavior and he refuses to give himself up. The vehicle he requested for soon arrives and he asks Agent Sheldon to drive them to Kennedy airport. A small distraction leads to the shooting of Sal while Sonny is arrested and the hostages freed. The film ends on a sad note with Sal’s body being lifted out of the scene while Sonny watches.
The director chooses the right people in the right scenes. The first scene is so important to this film as it gives the audience the background of the place where the robbery is to take place. The first shots are of the surrounding environment, the ship, the street and the people around this area (Metz 32). There is a construction site, a tennis court and a beach, which are the common features of any city. The shots here start with a long shot, which is then brought closer for details. The moment Sonny steps into the bank, the audience knows that something is not right. This scene is meant to create tension and the director succeeds in doing this. In addition, the way that Sal pulls his gun on the manager is very dramatic. There is a hint of humor when there is confusion between Sonny and the unnamed accomplice. A person wants to laugh at the way the camera gets a close up of his tension and confusion. The director is trying to give an introduction that is vivid and dramatic. The different characters in this scene are comical and serious at the same time. This scene is important as it gives a feel of what is going to happen in further parts of the film.
The director of this film takes an important note of detail in all the scenes. The camera is placed in a position that takes in all the important detail in every setting. For example, the scene where the bank is Sonny threatens to kill hostages’ gives a view of what the bank is like. The faces of the workers in the bank show that they are really afraid and this gives the audience a feel of the impact that Sonny has on them. On the other hand, the director shows the face of the depressed Sal to show that the deal is not going so well as Sonny tries to show. In addition, he also gives us a view of the situation outside where the police are positioning themselves. More reinforcement is brought and snipers are in position just in case they get a glimpse of the robbers. The cameras are placed closer to the images that they have to capture in order to convey emotion and feeling (Connolly 140). Another important aspect of this film is the voice variations. Sonny is the main character in this film and the way he speaks is important to the development of the plot of the film. In most of the parts, he speaks confidently to show that he is in control of the situation. On the contrary, he changes his voice when he is told that the security guard is suffering from asthma. He sounds surprised and almost afraid. In another situation, when he is talking to Sal about not killing people, he sounds comforting. The director uses these voice variations in order to create variety and set the right mood for every situation.
The crowd that has gathered outside the bank is enjoying the scene and is happy to see Sonny. They give a loud applause when Sonny comes out and Sonny is enjoying the attention too. It is ironic that people are excited about a bank robber. The director is bringing out irony in the scenes where Sonny is cheered by the crowd (Lumet and Cunningham, 58). The scene where Sonny comes out to ask for a helicopter from Detective Moretti is very intense. The way that Sonny impresses the crowd on proving that he does not have a gun is humorous. There is a man who comes out of the crowd, tries to hurt Sonny because his girlfriend is in the bank, and is booed by the people. It is funny that the people are on Sonny’s side who is threatening other people’s lives while they dislike the man who is trying to fight for his girlfriend’s life. The director creates scenes that are intense and serious but still funny and comical. It is important to note the way he brings out the humor without distracting the characters from the serious parts of the film. For example, Sonny suggests that they should go to Algeria after the jet arrives. This is funny because it is unexpected to think of such a place when faced with the present situation. The director also creates humor when Sal is asked which country he wants to go to and he says Wyoming. Sal does not even know that Wyoming is not a country and this does not distract the actors from going on with the serious part.
The lighting of this film is also an important aspect of creating the mood in every scene. The film is named the Dog day afternoon, meaning the dog days of summer. The director achieves this set by shooting the movie in the late afternoon (Metz 33). It is evident in the fact that Sonny and his friends arrived when the bank was about to close. In addition, we can see the camera captures the sun outside and the long shadows outside. In the bank, the light is enough to show the people and their expressions clearly. The lighting is intense on the faces of the characters to give a clear picture of the feelings that they are showing. This can be seen even in the car, where you can see their faces very clearly. The language used in this film is also an important factor. The director creates a film that uses the language that is used by people in their every day life. There are no restrictions whatsoever especially on words that might be considered insults in other films. The director chose this type of language intentionally because it gives a sense of reality to the film. In addition, the cars and type of clothes used in this film depict the kind of life that people lived in the 1970’s. The scene where Sonny, Sal and the hostages are being transported to the airport is also intense. The director gives a close shot on the faces of the hostages to show the kind of emotions that they had. In addition, the tension on Sonny and Sal’s faces is evident because they are not sure what will happen next. The end is very emotional and leaves the audience satisfied that the robbers have been stopped.
In conclusion, this film is a drama film that takes a lot of input from the director to make it a success. The choice of characters, sound and lighting are important parts of a film that the director has manipulated to make this movie a successful one. The quality of the pictures shows that the director did an excellent job and that he achieved his mission.
Connolly, Maeve. The Place of Artists’ Cinema: Space, Site, and Screen. Bristol: Intellect, 2009. Print.
Lumet, Sidney, and Frank R. Cunningham. Sidney Lumet: Film and Literary Vision. Lexington, Ky: Univ. Press of Kentucky, 2001. Print.
Metz, Walter. Engaging Film Criticism: Film History and Contemporary American Cinema. New York [u.a.: Lang, 2004. Print.