“I don’t wanna talk to some flunky pig trying to calm me, man.”
A married New Yorker (Al Pacino) hoping to pay for a sex-change operation for his male lover (Chris Sarandon) collaborates with a trigger-happy partner (John Cazale) to rob a bank; but when things go horribly wrong, they end up holding the entire staff hostage while a negotiating police captain (Charles Durning) manages increasingly circus-like crowds outside the bank.
Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “black comedy based on a real-life incident” is “a big favorite of many fans and critics”, but he thinks “it smacks of ‘Wouldn’t this true story make a great movie!’ attitude” and that it “all rings false”. He further adds that “every unbearable moment when we laugh because the situation is so pathetic, every introduction of another offbeat character, every character expression seems calculated to elicit an audience response”, and he argues that Lumet’s “direction of the extras who make up the crowds outside the bank is surprisingly lame”, given that they “are obviously acting for our benefit”. While a couple of Peary’s points have merit (the crowds seem staged, and some of the “offbeat characters” are cliched), I happen to enjoy this flick a lot more than he does: the “based on real events” storyline is so consistently unpredictable and wacky that we can’t help getting caught up during the two-hours-plus running time, despite knowing that things won’t end well for the luckless would-be robbers.
Strong performances by Pacino, Cazale, Durning, and others ground the film, presenting us with a slate of real people deeply invested in a hideously gone-bad situation; they’re all simply trying to climb their way out intact and preserve lives. Pacino’s character is so genuinely on-edge that he cares more about pragmatics than his newfound fame, and remains refreshingly unfazed by having his sexuality publicly “outed” (though Cazale is predictably agitated by being mistakenly labeled on the news as one of two “homosexuals”). Sully Boyar and Penny Allen are excellent as protective bank employees watching out for their colleagues, and Sarandon’s Oscar-nominated supporting performance as the transgendered lover behind Pacino’s actions is memorable. Watch for a particularly ironic moment early on, as an African-American bank guard is unexpectedly released first and unleashes a flurry of movement to arrest him; some things haven’t changed.
Note: Fans of this flick will likely enjoy Spike Lee’s Inside Man (2006), also about a heist-gone-wrong.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Al Pacino as Sonny
- Chris Sarandon as Leon
- Sully Boyar as Mulvaney
- Charles Durning as Moretti
- John Cazale as Sal
- Penny Allen as the no-nonsense head bank teller
- Excellent use of authentic NY locales
Yes, primarily for Pacino’s performance.