Dog Day Afternoon – Day Thirty One – #40movies40days

al-pacino-dog-day-afternoonI’d never seen Dog Day Afternoon and decided to watch it in honor of director Sidney Lumet’s passing.  The film is a great example of a Power of Idealism crime drama.  (I’ll be teaching a Thriller-Crime Drama workshop at New York Law School on April 30).

Robert Berkvist recalled in the New York Times: “While the goal of all movies is to entertain,” Mr. Lumet once wrote, “the kind of film in which I believe goes one step further. It compels the spectator to examine one facet or another of his own conscience. It stimulates thought and sets the mental juices flowing.”

Social issues set his own mental juices flowing, and his best films not only probed the consequences of prejudice, corruption and betrayal but also celebrated individual acts of courage…

…Mr. Lumet (was) “one of the last of the great movie moralists” and “a leading purveyor of the social-issue movie.” Yet Mr. Lumet said he was never a crusader for social change. “I don’t think art changes anything,” he said in The Times interview. So why make movies? he was asked.

“I do it because I like it,” he replied, “and it’s a wonderful way to spend your life.”

up-dog_day_afternoon_3_lg2In Dog Day Afternoon, amateur bank robber Sonny Wortzik (Al Pacino), his friend Salvatore “Sal” Naturile (John Cazale), and a second accomplice rob a bank. Their plan immediately goes awry when the second accomplice loses his nerve. He flees the scene. Sonny and Sal then discover that the daily cash pickup has left only $1100 in  in the bank.

Sonny takes a number of traveler’s checks.  He burns the check register in a waste basket, to prevent the checks from being traced.  Smoke billows out a side vent of the building.  An insurance agent across the street notices and calls the cops. Within minutes, the building is surrounded by police, as inept as the robbers. Unsure what to do, Sonny and Sal camp out in the bank, holding all the employees hostage. Chaos and high drama ensues.

They fight for an impossible or lost cause and the glory of doing what logically or ordinarily cannot be done.  Often they give their lives for their doomed cause or campaign.
These characters lead best in short bursts of intense activity or creativity.  They tend not to be very reliable about the boring details of grinding day-to day long-term leadership.  They are “big picture” or visionary leaders.  They inspire others with the sense of a destiny in one great cause.
Power of Idealism characters love the big romantic gesture and are rarely interested in sticking around for the clean up after their big moment is over.  They would rather disappear into the glorious memory of the grand occasion or glorious battle.
Sonny, a Power of Idealism character, fights for an impossible or lost cause (his mentally unstable male lover/wife’s sex change operation).  These characters, like Sonny, love the big romantic gesture.  They lead best in short bursts of intense activity or creativity.  They tend not to be very reliable about the boring details of planning and step-by-step exection.  This describes Sonny to a tee.  He sees himself as a “big picture” or visionary leader but has no practical ability to actually bring the robbery off.
Dog Day Afternoon (Al Pacino)Christopher Null, writing at, sums the film up perfectly:  Today Dog Day Afternoon is an unabashed classic, a template by which other movies are based and a formula which is periodically tweaked and refined. There are few things you can complain about in Dog Day — a second act that relies on a few too many variations of the same ‘the cops are scheming’ bit, and that’s about it. But Pacino’s fiery performance and Sidney Lumet’s perfect direction does more than create a great crime movie. It captures perfectly the zeitgeist of the early 1970s, a time when optimism was scraping rock bottom and John Wojtowicz was as good a hero as we could come up with.”
In 2009, the film was added to the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.
Sonny’s passion is misguided.  He goes off half cocked with no real back-up plan or step-by-step practical way to execute his dream/goal.  Although I believe passion is necessary to life, I wonder when and where my passion is misguided or has lead or is leading me astray.
Do I have a full understanding of what I need to do to execute my dreams?  Am I fully aware of the costs of what I choose?  This project has been a way to step back and take a more objective look at what I am doing with my life and why.  Already ideas are coalescing and my vision is clearing.  This has been a really interesting and revealing experiment.

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