|Watergate hero. Al Pacino|
Lumet and his team combine just the right amounts of asphalt realism and expressionist distortion of smoggy sunlight as it sinks into an Edward Hopper evening. As night falls, beads of sweat drench everybody's face: the negotiators, the hostages, Sonny and his friend and accomplice, Sal. The air conditioner in the bank chugs noisily, its condensers and coils rattling with exhaustion. Everyone and everything in the movie grows exhausted and frazzled. It's a comedy of errors as the action moves between the two sets—the bank and the street outside, where the boys in blue spend the day trying to keep the crowds from crossing the crime barricades as they chant "Attica! Attica!" The tone alternates between the frantic, the comic, and the exhaustedly placid, but stays completely lifelike.
Dog Day Afternoon is unusual for 1970s movies because the police (the establishment) are treated sympathetically; the movie's point of view is that the street crowd's response to Sonny's plight—treating him like a celebrity and political hero—is nutzo and obstructionist. How did Lumet know that, decades later, we'd actually be willing to feel ashamed of our own corrupted '60s youth?