Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Shotgun in a Box

There is a brief moment seven and a half minutes into Dog Day Afternoon which I treasure about as much as I treasure anything in film. It's right up there with Bogart smiling before he slaps Peter Lorre in The Maltese Falcon or the exquisitely painful moment in Fargo when Wiliam H. Macy's voice jumps up an octave as he explains to Frances McDormand that he's the "executive sales manager".

The moment consists of the three shots, which I like to think of as three shots trying desperately to be one shot. Pacino's Sonny tries dislodge the weapon he's not-so-cleverly disguised in a long gift box to begin a bank robbery, and like everything else in the robbery it doesn't go as planned.

Most of the time we think of cuts in a film as happening on instinct and rhythm and not carrying any particular meaning. In this case, the fact that the action which began in the first shot is still awkwardly taking place in the third is the whole film in a nutshell. Pacino's Sonny pictured that gun coming out of the box in one smooth motion. But what was clean and efficient in his mind became sloppy and overly complicated in execution with the box clinging stubbornly to the barrel the gun.


While witnessing his current mannered hamminess it's easy to forget what a force of nature Pacino could be in his prime. There are many such moments like this where Pacino goes big, but we don't think for a second about scenery chewing, or acting at all really, because Pacino so thoroughly sells it with the overwhelming ferocity of his conviction.

Last week when I published my all time ballot for Best Actor I could have named any one of dozens of intense method performances from DeNiro in Taxi Driver to Brando in Last Tango in Paris. But in my mind the phrase "Best Actor" is inextricably linked with Pacino's work here. He burned the connection into my psyche when he tried to pull that shotgun out of the box.


  1. god i love this writeup. particularly the the point about the cutting being the movie in a nutshell.

    your passion for this performance is part of the reason I was excited to do this film for the series and Pacino is every bit as good as that and then some. One of the best leading male performances ever.

  2. Wonderful choice! What a trigger finger you have, to get that first cap of Pacino so off balance. From there on in he's just trying to find his feet. Great write-up!

  3. I remember Sonny saying 'That's it' or something like that before he breaks what we thought was a box of roses (Rewatched it, he doesn't say anything). It's like this great moment of disjointed craziness that would lead us to, as you say, the rest of his botched plan.

  4. The performance is really one of the best ever. It's such perfect casting isn't it? Pacino's rather innocent eyes fit the character's vulnerability, while his ferocious acting technique is perfect for this manic bank robber. Nice choice