ATTICA! ATTICA!, Al Pacino in a movie scene beyond brilliant. PUT THOSE FUCKING GUNS DOWN!!! PUT'EM DOWN! PUT'EM DOWN! Some say his best performance ever.
It's not only him: everything is flawless in this scene, and everybody's performance is hot.
Look in this scene at Charles Durning, in the role of the chief detective, trying to remain sane in the middle of all chaos and craziness, look at James Broderick, playing the FBI agent, staying cool and observing with his poker face what's happening, while building in his mind the strategy to change the course of the situation, masterminding quietly his own plan.
Look at Penelope Allen, playing one of the hostages, starting slowly to take sides with the bad guy, for two reasons: number one - she is more and more amazed how policemen are acting like a loose canon; number two - she is realizing that the bad guy is actually a sympathetic loser (you know, losers are always adorable).
Look at the way the people surrounding the place are transforming the hold-up into a circus show, while the formidable Al Pacino tries badly to keep on improvising to adapt to the ever changing situation, to keep control.
Look at him and at the chief detective trying to keep their dialog against all odds.
And look again at what Al Pacino is doing there: the whole scene is a masterpiece in its own right, but he is the catalyst who makes all this possible.
John Cazale appears just one second behind the bank window: what a great actor! This mix of innocence (as only a loser can be), and determination (as only a criminal can be), and craziness!
Actually everyone there is kind of crazy: the two robbers are crazy, the hostages are more and more insane, the policemen act like nuts, the people surrounding the place are mad, even the FBI agent is too cool to be normal.
The two lunatics could have all the unexpected reasons for attacking the bank; there was however an overwhelming motivation even they were not aware of: they wanted to demonstrate to themselves that they were not freaking losers.
Yes, everybody's crazy there because this movie (Dog Day Afternoon) is real life, and life is crazy.
The real event was even crazier than the movie: the robbery took place exactly while President Nixon was giving his acceptance speech at the GOP Convention, so on all TV channels his discourse was interrupted by the breaking news!
Let's consider the rapport between what's on the screen and reality. Since Magritte has shown that you couldn't stuff the pipe painted by him, we all should know that an image is not the object it represents. It goes the same for a movie: Dog Day Afternoon is inspired by the reality; it is a representation of reality; it is not the reality.
Here come two facts that bring some correctives to the paradox of Magritte: the rapport between movie and reality is not always unidirectional (and we should consider also situations when objects derive from images).
Two facts related just to the history of the real event upon which the movie was based:
Number one: the real robber (John Wojtowicz) had seen a day earlier Al Pacino in The Godfather. So came the idea.
Number two: John Wojtowicz was released from prison after fifteen years. In 1999 he was invited to reconstitute the event. A French film director, Pierre Huyghe, made a short documentary, The Third Memory, where the real guy was telling us what actually had happened in that Dog Day of August 1972.
I saw this documentary at Hirshhorn: a two channel video reconstructing the set from Dog Day Afternoon, while allowing the bank robber himself to tell the real story. One monitor was showing a long shot of the scene, the second monitor was showing a close up. Or sometimes one monitor was presenting a scene from the movie while the second monitor was presenting the commentary of John Wojtowicz.
The use of the two channels was mastered perfectly: the two monitors were changing roles at times and everything was flowing naturally.
Well, the real guy was no more able to escape from the story as told by the movie!
Coming now back to the movie: it shows actually an America in vertiginous craziness; Watergate would be the explosion, and that epoch would disappear for ever.