Director: Sidney Lumet.
Screenplay: Frank Pierson.
Starring: Al Pacino, John Cazale, Charles Durning, James Broderick, Chris Sarandon, Sully Boyar, Penelope Allen, Carol Kane, Lance Henriksen, Dick Anthony Williams, Philip Charles Mackenzie.
Al Pacino and John Cazale came into this film just off the back of completing “The Godfather parts I & II” together. Pacino also managed to do “Serpico” and Cazale “The Conversation” in-between. It was a good run they were both on in the early 70’s and this no less of a classic than the aforementioned ones.
On a hot day in New York, on 22nd August 1972, three men set out to rob a bank. It’s supposed to take ten minutes, but things start going wrong from the beginning when one of them bails at the last minute. Four hours later, the bank is surrounded by police, a media circus, and crowds of well wishers.
As the film opens, we are given a montage of New York life and it’s vastness and eclectic mix of people. Not before long though, we are then led into a bank by three men, who proceed to threaten the bank tellers with rifles. Within minutes, this true story has begun with such a tense and completely believable hold-up. The tension is, by-and-large, the masterwork of director Sidney Lumet and a strikingly powerful performance by Al Pacino. Lumet never let’s up for a moment, he has the camera moving at such a pace that the adrenaline of the bank robbery is also felt by the viewer. He has always been a highly respected director and on this evidence alone, you can see why. And then, almost suddenly, the pace is ground to a halt with a phone call… The police are watching everything that going on from across the street. This is when Lumet slows it down and gets closer to his actors and the claustrophobia of the situation. The performances are uniformly brilliant – making you forget that it’s actors you’re watching – but this is ultimately Pacino’s show. He highly on-edge, with despairing eyes and nervous ticks, desperately trying to hold everything together. He injects a real sympathy and believability to his character and it stands as one of his finest pieces of work. Added to which, with the body of work that Sidney Lumet has delivered over a career spanning 50 years (he died in 2011), this is one of his greatest achievements also.
An outstanding, naturalistic heist movie that boasts career highs and an unbearable tension that never let’s up. In a decade of fine cinema, this remains one of the best of the 70’s.