DOG DAY AFTERNOON - Blu-ray review

his film is an absolute classic and though it is now more than three decades old, it is a fresh breath of air on the Blu-ray format.


Sidney Lumet's 1975 film "Dog Day Afternoon" stars Al Pacino and is based upon actual events detailing a 1972 bank robbery by John Wojtowicz. In the film, Pacino portrays bank robber Sonny Wortzik, the factual representation of John Wojtowicz. Pacino had initially passed on the role of Sonny Wortzik, but after taking a second look at the script and urging by his friend and the film's directory Lumet, Pacino eventually accepted the job and earned an Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of a homosexual bank robber who fails before the credits roll. The film was a risky undertaking for Pacino, who was already a big star when approached to portray Wortzik. The film managed to bring home one Oscar from its six nominations, which included Best Picture, Best Director (Sidney Lumet), Best Actor in a Leading Role (Al Pacino), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Chris Sarandon), Best Film Editing (Dede Allen) and the category it won, Writing – Original Screenplay (Frank Pierson). "Dog Day Afternoon" earned seven Golden Globe nominations, but was shut out at the awards ceremony.

"Dog Day Afternoon" was a risky undertaking for Pacino because of the nature of the character Sonny Wortzik. Pacino had played tough characters in "The Godfather," and its sequel and "Serpico," but in "Dog Day Afternoon," he was asked to play a less than together criminal who was not very tough, a suffering Vietnam Veteran and was also a homosexual. At the time the film was released, the Vietnam War and the problems veterans were having on the home front were hot social topics and playing a homosexual is always something which can break the career of an up and coming star. Once the film was released, Pacino's acting chops were in full display and the actor won praise from many of the top critics and if there were any questions regarding Pacino's ability to slip into a role and offer a command performance, they were silenced.

The original story for which "Dog Day Afternoon" is based first appeared in Life Magazine in 1972 and the film is regarded to being honest with the source material. Names were changed, but Sonny Wortzik (Pacino) has decided to enlist the help of two friends and rob a local bank. The motives for the bank robbery are not known during the first half of the film, but eventually it is learned that Wortzik has two wives, an overweight woman, Angie (Susan Peretz), to whom he has children and an unlawful marriage to a homosexual male, Leon Shermer (Chris Sarandon). Wortzik wants to finance a sex-change operation for his lover and the bank heist seemed to best method to obtain the money. Aiding Sonny in the robbery is Sal Naturile (John Cazale) and Stevie (Gary Springer). Stevie quickly flees at the beginning of the botch bank heist, but Sal remains with Sonny until the duo are apprehended by Agent Murphy (Lance Henriksen) at an airport.

"Dog Day Afternoon" is a brilliant character film that captures the talents of star Al Pacino and its legendary director, Sidney Lumet. Pacino's portrayal of Sonny brings a nervous, quick-witted and paranoid nature to the character that finds Sonny always on the edge of losing control and keeping a loose grip on the situation. Both Pacino and Sarandon shine in their shared scene where Sonny opens up to Leon about his feelings and the two say their goodbyes. Even in today's more "open" times, homosexual characters are hindered by stereotypes, but Pacino and Sarandon deliver a grounded and believable exchange that earned them both Academy Award nominations. Lance Henriksen delivers in an early performance and John Cazale puts on a great character performance as the confused and dim-witted Sal. The film is a gritty and realistic look at an actual failed bank robbery and hostage situation and the tension, uncertainty and unexpected nature of the dog day afternoon is nailed by Lumet's vision. This is a classic film that routinely finds itself and its performances on many "Best of" lists by both the American Film Institute and other associations. What once was a risk for Pacino is now one of his more classic character roles and one of the more powerful films he has starred in.

"Dog Day Afternoon" looks solid on Blu-ray with its spiffy VC-1/1080p transfer. Framed in 1.85:1 widescreen, "Dog Day Afternoon" captures the look of the times and its overly bright and warm picture helps enforce the notion that the events of the film occurred on a very warm Summer day on the hot city streets of New York City. Colors are good, but reflect the more reserved palettes of the early Seventies. Contrast is perfect and fleshtones are rendered with an appropriate shade of pink. Detail is remarkable considering the age of the film. I have never had the opportunity to view the picture on DVD, but the Blu-ray release is certainly highly detailed and a great visual representation of Sidney Lumet's film. There are some moments of film grain, but this is typical for a film of this vintage. I noticed a couple occurrences of stepping as well, notably on a few fabric patterns. Regardless of the very few flaws found during the presentation of the film, this is a stunning looking transfer.

The sound quality was a warm and pleasant experience; however, the sound quality is not nearly as surprising. "Dog Day Afternoon" is presented with a single channel Dolby Digital 1.0 mono mix. Using default settings on both my receiver and Playstation 3, "Dog Day Afternoon" sounded dull coming through only the center channel. A little processing help from the Denon receiver brought some sounds to the left and right speakers, but this was still a film that sounded barely better than something emanating from a VHS player. The soundtrack was clean and a few phone rings from the old analog phones sounded as if they were coming from the room, but the rest of "Dog Day Afternoon" simply sounded flat.

"Dog Day Afternoon" is packed with a couple very nice supplements. The most impressive of the set of features is the Commentary by Directory Sidney Lumet. Sidney Lumet is a very knowledgeable, passionate and entertaining individual. Lumet spends some time delivering scene specific commentary, but spends other moments detailing the pre and post production of the film. The director has a ton of respect for his actors, especially Pacino and he points out the finer points of their performances and this commentary track is of the sort that elicits a greater appreciation for the final product.

After the commentary track, the supplements are not quite as impressive, but still worth checking out. These mostly consist of a larger making-of documentary that is split into smaller segments. The Making of Dog Day Afternoon: The Story (11:54) features the film's Producer Martin Bregman, the films stars and other involved with the production of the film. This first segment doesn't delve too deeply into the actual events surrounding John Wojtowicz, but discusses the events of bringing "Dog Day Afternoon" to the screen and securing the services of Al Pacino. The second section is The Making of Dog Day Afternoon: Casting the Controversy (13:28) and focuses on Bergman's decisions to hire Sidney Lumet and more detailing the casting of Al Pacino, but also of John Cazale, Lance Henriksen and Chris Sarandon. The third segment is The Making of Dog Day Afternoon: Recreating the Facts (21:11). This segment is the primary "Making Of" featurettes and looks at all aspects of delivering the story to cinemas, including shooting on location in New York and the difficulties in telling the real-life story. The final segment is The Making of Dog Day Afternoon: After the Filming (11:17). This segment deals with the film's audience reception and reaction and spends some time back-patting the longevity of the film. A vintage and overly brief vignette filmed during the films production, Lumet: Film Maker (10:01) and the Theatrical Trailer finalize the list of extras.

Closing Thoughts:
"Dog Day Afternoon" is a powerful character-driven drama that details a true-to-life story about a botched bank robbery in New York City in 1972. Starring Al Pacino and directed by Sidney Lumet, this is an absolute classic and sits proudly along other Lumet classics as "Network" and "Serpico." The Blu-ray release features striking visuals that shows the benefits of high definition to a catalog title. The sound is a limited Dolby Digital 1.0 mix and that is sad considering the wonderful visuals. Sidney Lumet delivers a great commentary and the making of feature is worth watching once. I eagerly await the arrival of "Network" on Blu-ray, but I'm more than satisfied with this Sidney Lumet film. Not too many films deliver a realistic look of a 1972 hot August day and a bank robbery from all sides of the standoff, but "Dog Day Afternoon" does. This film is an absolute classic and though it is now more than three decades old, it is a fresh breath of air on the Blu-ray format.


Film Value