You don’t go off and rob a bank when you’re only plan is from watching The Godfather a few hours before. But this is what one man did when he went with a group to rob a bank in America. Dog Day Afternoon doesn’t show Al Pacino watching himself in The Godfather though, but the rest of the film follows the true story of an attempted robbery by a group of amateurs.
Dog Day Afternoon is about 30% true according to John Wojtowicz, the real man behind the crime. Three men enter a bank in Brooklyn to rob it, with one bailing early on and the other two only finding $1,100 as they’d arrived after the cash pick up. Due to starting a fire to hide evidence of some traveller’s checks they wanted to grab, the building is surrounded by the police, FBI, TV stations and onlookers. Not a good start to their first bank robbery, and so Sonny (Al Pacino) has to find a way out of it with his pal Sal (John Cazale). Thankfully they have some hostages to deal with, and the hold out begins. This is the way the film version goes, but it remains largely faithful to the true events. 30% faithful.
It would have been nice to see a closer representation as the robbery is so bizarre, with some left field surprises popping up one after the other, but John wouldn’t deal with the movie crew so we have to make do with only 30% of the truth. The robbery, history of Sonny’s relationships, plan to escape and general police dealings are all true, but there are also scenes which didn’t take place. Such as talking with his Mother and ex-wife during the stake out. The film probably didn’t even need those scenes as the rest is so engaging and surprising, but they are there to try to bring some extra depth they didn’t have thanks to an uncooperative robber.
The performances are excellent from Pacino and Cazale, and their amateurish nature in the robbery makes them feel unpredictable and rather dangerous. Who knows if Sal will fire that machine gun as he anxiously keeps the hostages in control or if Sonny will end up pumped full of lead as he steps outside? Even if you know the true story it may not turn out that way, 30% and all that. It can feel like you too become part of the gruelling robbery as the film goes back and forth with each new deal Sonny and the cops make, but the uncertainty and unusual revelations keep things interesting. Truth is stranger than fiction and this film proves it as the most unpredictable twists are the 100% true parts.