This week, I spent time in Peekskill, New York, on the set of Mildred Pierce, an upcoming HBO mini-series, based on the novel by James M. Cain. Coincidentally, this production is linked to this blog for two reasons. First, it is based on the same source material as the 1945 Best Picture-nominated Joan Crawford film of the same name, which will be reviewed right here in due course. Second, it stars Kate Winslet, who appears in a number of films on the Best Picture honour roll.
The character I played had the not-at-all demeaning moniker Starched Collar Man #2, which perhaps gives you an indication of his importance to the plot. Nonetheless, the entire experience was incredibly exciting, if for no other reason than I rubbed shoulders (and will share the screen) with Ms. Winslet. Although I did not have the chance to chat to her at length, I did have short conversations with co-star Mare Winningham and director Todd Haynes.
I will attempt to catch up on lost time by speeding up my movie-watching agenda (no promises, though). Today, I found some time to watch another 1975 Best Picture nominee...
Dog Day Afternoon
(based on an article by P.F. Kluge and Thomas Moore)
Al Pacino, John Cazale, Charles Durning, Chris Sarandon, James Broderick
1 win, for Best Original Screenplay
On a hot summer's day in 1972, Sonny Wortzik (Pacino), along with two accomplices, walks into a bank in Brooklyn, New York, in order to steal some cash to pay for his boyfriend's (Sarandon) sex-change operation. Within minutes, one of his accomplices chickens out, hightailing it out of there. The other, Sal (Cazale), is a bundle of nerves, dangerously close to blowing everyone's brains out. What should have been a quick theft quickly turns into a media circus once the cops arrive, headed first by Detective Meretti (Durning) before being turned over to the FBI and Agent Sheldon (Broderick). With dozens of cameras and hundreds of onlookers, Sonny attempts to outwit the scheming cops while dealing with his nervous accomplice, his hysterical ex-wife, his overbearing mother and his suicidal lover.
In different hands, Dog Day Afternoon could easily have been a laugh-out-loud farce, but director Sidney Lumet and his talented cast play every scene entirely straight. On paper, the unfolding events are absurd. Indeed, if it weren't based on a true story, it would be utterly implausible. Yet, the absurdity of the story is its most fascinating attribute. And since it is not played for laughs, it is all the more humorous.
This film is also a particularly interesting character study. Pacino (pictured) is nothing short of superb in his Oscar-nominated portrayal of Sonny, perfectly capturing both his righteousness and his insecurity. And Sonny is a complex guy to play. Not your typical protagonist, his own desperation confuses him. He tries to be tough, but his compassion always seems to get in the way. He's well-meaning, but he's obviously made a horribly stupid mistake. In the end, we find ourselves sympathising with a bank robber and not minding that we're doing so.
The anti-establishment tones throughout the film are highlighted by the way in which the gawking crowd tease the cops as they try to negotiate with Sonny. It could also be said that this sideshow event was, in a way, an early version of reality TV. The events unfold on the news, bringing more and more people down to the bank to get a look at the "stars". When a pizza delivery boy arrives on the scene, he is absolutely overjoyed to be a part of the spectacle.
Pacino is supported wonderfully by John Cazale, showcasing the brooding and potentially explosive nature of Sal. Chris Sarandon earned an Oscar nomination for his emotional turn as the confused Leon. Charles Durning's sincere performance as the detective reaches its captivating heights during an amazing exchange with Pacino after Sonny fires a shot. And James Broderick owns his stoic portrayal of the no-nonsense FBI agent. Also look out for The Sopranos' Dominic Chianese playing Sonny's father.
Even though the real Sonny was serving time in prison by the time the film was released, he still received money from the production company for the rights to his story. In the final irony to this whole saga, that money was used to finally get his boyfriend that sex-change operation. You can't make this stuff up.