In August 1972 John Wojtowicz, a garrulous and unapologetically larger-than-life New Yorker, found 15 minutes of fame and then some when his attempt to rob the Chase Manhattan bank in Manhattan in August 1972 turned into a 14-hour hostage negotiation on live TV. It wasn’t just the siege which made the story such a spectacle. Mr Wojtowicz’s motivation caught the imagination: he needed the money to fund his male lover’s sex change operation.
Sidney Lumet’s gripping movie version showcases a bravura performance from Al Pacino as the married, unhappy, decent, confused bank robber (here called Sonny). The movie’s matter-of-fact treatment of its gay hero never gets sanctimonious, but Pacino and Chris Sarandon work up tremendous pathos in their desperate telephone heart to heart. This was a landmark in positive (or at least, sympathetic) representation. Lumet does it all without a score, too. (“If the first obligation was to tell the audience that this event really happened, how could you justify music weaving in and out?” he said.)
More than just another heist movie… It’s a gripping picture of a city close to meltdown. From Lumet’s dazzling opening montage in which we see scenes of a city about to boil over in more ways than one, sweltering 70s New York becomes a raucous character in the movie. 1972’s cultural melee is perfectly invoked as the heist transforms into a counter-cultural jamboree with a botched bank robbery as its central piece of performance art. Only, as they say, in the 70s.
Adam Smith, Empire
Brisk, humorous and alive with urban energies and angers fretting through the 92 degree heat.
Sight & Sound
Al Pacino, John Cazale, Charles Durning, Chris Sarandon, Penelope Allen, James Broderick
Best Screenplay, Academy Awards 1976
Tuesday August 16
Martin Bregman, Martin Elfand
Victor J. Kemper
More Films in This Series
Dog Day Afternoon
Based on a true story of a New York bank robbery which turned into a hostage siege (and a media spectacle), Sidney Lumet's gripping movie showcases a bravura performance from Al Pacino as the homosexual, married, unhappy, decent, confused bank robber.
The biggest hit from the 70s phase of Brian De Palma's career, Carrie takes Stephen King's horror novel about a troubled telekinetic teen and weaves it into a purely cinematic rhapsody of angst and (retali-)elation, what Pauline Kael termed "a terrifyingly lyrical thriller".
All the President's Men
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