2 May 2004 | bob the moo
An interesting true story made a good film with great performances
Brooklyn, New York. Sonny, Sal and another man walk into the bank and hold it up. Seconds into the job, the third man changes his mind and leaves. The job starts to go wrong when Sonny discovers that the truck he was told was dropping off money, was actually picking it up, meaning the vault is nearly empty. Things get worse when the police arrive outside and trap the two inside with a handful of hostages. As Sonny and Sal try to keep control, a circus breaks out on the street with the police, the public and the media all involved.
I have seen this film several times but it has been a few years since I last had the chance to see it. I watched it again today with the memory of it being good but not really as truly great as many seem to think it is. The plot is all the more fascinated for it being true but it is not an easy subject to bring to the screen. While morally most people can accept robbers in films as characters to support, it is a bigger step to accept the sexualities and complexities of these characters and to get behind them. However the film actually manages to make this quite moving and difficult - not only do we feel for Sonny but the film is fair to him and, more impressively, Leon. It would have been easy to turn this relationship into a joke but the script allows it to be done with sensitivity. The rest of the film captures the sense of circus and media feeding frenzy well as well as being quite tense and enjoyable to watch.
The film's strength is it's performances and, in particular, Pacino in a performance that is both showy and understated at different times. He is a real person and it is to his credit that, no matter the revelations about Sonny, he never loses the audience. Cazale is good here too but in a different way - a simple, sympathetic character. His hit rate is amazing when you think that he was only ever in a handful of films and they were all pretty amazing, but it's hard to tell how good an actor he was really. Durning is good in support and the rest of the cast are pretty good but it is Pacino's film and he manages well with the shouting, the silence and the complexities of his characters.
Overall this is not one of the best films ever made but it is certainly a very good telling of this true story. The film deals very well with both the tension of the situation but also the underlying stories and characters - even more surprising for the period it was made in, it makes a very balanced presentation of the homosexual characters. The direction is very good and the performances are all good, but it is Pacino's film and he does very well with it.