Cast: Al Pacino, John Cazale, James Broderick, Charles Durning
Oscar Wins: Best Writing – Original Screenplay (Frank Pierson)
Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Sidney Lumet), Best Actor (Al Pacino), Best Supporting Actor (Chris Sarandon), Best Film Editing (Dede Allen)
SUMMARY: On a hot day in New York, three men enter the First Brooklyn Savings Bank. These men, Sonny Wortzik (Al Pacino), Sal Naturale (John Cazale) and Stevie, work together to hold up the bank, but almost immediately, Stevie finds he cannot go through with the plan. Sonny lets him leave, and he and Sal hold the seven workers left in the building hostage. However, when they open the safe, they find that they have arrived at the bank too late: the truck has already arrived to pick up the day’s cash, leaving only $1100 in the vault. Sonny, who has worked in a bank before, takes traveler’s checks to add to the haul, then burns the bank’s register in a trash can. This causes even more problems: the smoke goes out of an air vent outside the building, causing a man across the street to become suspicious. Though Sonny has the bank manager talk to the man when he approaches, the police are alerted, and soon surround the building. Neither Sonny nor Sal has criminal history or experience, but Sonny decides to stay in the bank with the hostages, rather than giving up. Police officer Eugene Moretti (Charles Durning) tries to act as a negotiator between the authorities and Sonny: while he is successful in developing a rapport with Sonny, he is unable to talk his way into the building, as Sonny threatens to kill the hostages if anyone enters. Things begin to spiral further out of Sonny’s control when the elderly security guard has an asthma attack: he releases the hostage so that he can get medical help. Moretti continues to try to talk Sonny into stepping down, and has him come outside to look at the assembled police force. Sonny obliges, taking one of the hostages with him as a shield, but notices that a large crowd has assembled to watch the standoff. When he gets frustrated with Moretti, Sonny begins stirring up the crowd, who cheers for him. However, the trip outside has shown Sonny that he and Sal will be unable to just walk out of the bank, so he demands that the police provide him with a helicopter and a jet, which he will use to fly to another country.
Moretti and the FBI agent, Sheldon (James Broderick), promise to arrange this, but are unable to arrange a helicopter at the location: instead, they tell Sonny that they have arranged for a car to take him to the jet. By evening, everybody in the bank, criminals and hostages alike, is hot (the air conditioning has failed) and hungry, so pizzas are brought in. Not long after that, the police tell Sonny that his wife is on the scene. Sonny’s wife turns out to be a man named Leon Shermer (Chris Sarandon), a transsexual man who wants to have a sex-change operation: from him, the police learn that Sonny is robbing the bank primarily to pay for the operation. Sonny also has children with his first wife, Angie, from whom he is divorced. By night, Agent Sheldon has taken over the scene, and stops negotiating with Sonny. The bank manager then goes into diabetic shock, so Sonny lets a doctor in to care for him. Meanwhile, Sonny talks to Leon on the phone, revealing that Leon had tries to kill himself after frequent fighting with Sonny. They resolve this, and Sonny offers to take Leon with him on the plane, but Leon refuses; when he realizes that the police are listening in, Sonny tells them that Leon had nothing to do with the robbery. In yet another attempt to talk Sonny dwn, the police bring in his mother, but he again refuses. Sheldon then tells him that the car to the jet will arrive in ten minutes. Sonny is not sure he will survive the journey, and writes a will before leaving. When the car does arrive, Sonny successfully gets all the hostages, himself and Sal in the car, and selects an FBI officer to drive. During the trip, the officer asks Sal several times to point his gun at the ceiling, so that it will not fire if the car hits a pothole; when they arrive at the airport, the agent uses a distraction to turn around and shoot Sal in the forehead, then hold the gun to Sonny’s head. Sonny is then arrested, and the hostages are finally freed. Sonny receives a 20 year prison sentence; Angie and the children got by on welfare, and Leon successfully had the sex change surgery.
MY TAKE: This has got to be the most boring bank robbery movie ever. It’s pretty good for the first hour, but then it starts to drag horribly. You start to feel like you’re stuck n the bank with the extremely bored hostages. In addition, the criminals are completely inept. They miscalculate their arrival, so that they only find a small amount of money in the bank; then, hostages start getting sick, so Sonny starts releasing him. He also seems to actually believe that he and Sal can get away in the jet — everybody knows this is ridiculous, because the Feds are never going to let them get away with it. So, in addition to being the most boring bank robbery, it might be the worst-planned bank robbery ever mad into a movie. Really, during the second hour I was just waiting for the movie to end, because what else can you show? The hostages are in the bank, it’s hot, everybody’s bored and sweaty, and Sonny periodically argues with the police. Otherwise, nothing happens. In the movie, this goes on for hours, and it started to feel like real time. Of course, at the end the Feds do come out on top, killing Sal and arresting Sonny. Not a big surprise, given Sonny and Sal’s criminal talent up to that point (but I will admit that when Sonny comes into the bank and rips out his gun, I was just waiting for him to yell, “Say hello to my little friend!”).