There are some days when I hate the list. The recent Luis Bunuel marathon? Whenever an Eisenstein film drops through my door? The 9-hour holocaust documentary? Those are all such days, none involving good times. But some days I get to watch a film where most of the characters are made of felt and have a hand shoved inside them somewhat further than recommended by most professional actors.
Based on a true story, Sidney Lumet’s tale of two inept criminals (Al Pacino and John Cazale reuniting after the Godfather 1 & 2) whose attempted robbery of a Brooklyn bank descends into chaos once the police, the media and the general public get wind of their plans. Pacino gives arguably one of his best performances – without resorting to ‘shouty Al’ – as he struggles to handle a situation completely out of his control, that is only ever going to become more so, and it’s refreshing to see a heist film with a couple of average Joes doing the robbing, as unlike Ocean’s Eleven or Inside Man, these guys have no plan, no masks, hell they even use their real names. Lumet excels when restricted to small locations (see 12 Angry Men), and here is no different, with almost the entire film taking place in and around the bank, as Pacino’s Sonny becomes a hit with the crowds gathering around the crime scene. Heading straight into the plot – Lumet rarely bothers with much initial back story – the direction is tight and entirely to the point, as every scene helps to progress the story further, or reveals a character detail previously unknown. There are some nice comedic touches – a bank teller hostage receives a call from her husband, asking what time she thinks she will be finished there, and when Sonny asks Cazale’s borderline psychotic Sal what country he wants to flee to, Sal replies “Wyoming,” and look out for Lance Henrikssen as FBI agent Murphy in one of his first film roles.