It’s a hot summer afternoon in 1972 in Brooklyn. New York City. Three desperate but inexperienced men – Sonny Wortzik (played by Al Pacino), Sal (by John Cazale) and Stevie (by Gary Springer) intend to hold up the First Savings Bank of Brooklyn. Their plan is simple – get in, take the money and get out. They enter the bank just before closing time, but their ineptitude quickly shows – Stevie immediately loses his nerve and backs out of the heist so Sonny and Sal remain. They fumble their way through the first few minutes to frighten the bank staff, then make their way to the vault – but it is virtually empty, so Sonny takes the travellers’ cheques instead and sets fire to the register, which causes smoke outside the bank and arouses suspicion in those nearby. Before long, police have surrounded the bank – leaving Sonny and Sal trapped inside the bank with all the staff and no plan. Thinking fast, Sonny takes the staff as hostages and negotiates a getaway with Detective Moretti (by Charles Durning). The hold-up starts to draw a crowd who watch how the police handle this escalating incident. By this stage there are hundreds of armed police and media surrounding the bank and the crowd start a general protest against police brutality. The stand-off deteriorates further as the media uncover issues in Sonny’s past and people arrive to reason with Sonny, including his mother (by Judith Malina) and one of his closest friends Leon (by Chris Sarandon), which causes more anxiety and brings the situation to near flash-point. Sonny is out of his depth and struggling to maintain control of the situation. At length, he manages to negotiate a plane for his escape – in exchange for the safe return of the hostages, but he still doesn’t trust the police and FBI there.
This is a dramatisation of events that occurred in the real bank robbery of 1972. It is a fascinating movie – Al Pacino’s performance is intense. There is clearly a lot going on for Sonny and apparently he thinks more deeply about issues than his associates – this is clear in Pacino’s sensitive and gripping portrayal of his erratic nature. I understand that there is some fiction in this version of events, but the story is told very well. The tension inside the bank with the group of staff is palpable, but their actions towards the two gunmen are intriguing – although terrified, they (mostly women) have the presence of mind to appear relaxed and warm towards the frightening and clearly disturbed men. In watching the total ineptitude of the two protagonists and they way their luck runs, if you didn’t know it was based on true events you would think it was a well-written comedy. It’s an interesting movie and I think quite a good demonstration of the culture, politics and general community behaviour of the times.
In the 1976 presentation, the movie won the Academy Award (Oscar) for Best Writing, Original Screenplay and both Al Pacino and Chris Sarandon were nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role and Best Actor in a Supporting Role respectively. It was also nominated for Best Director, Best Film Editing and Best Picture.
Made in 1975. Directed by Sidney Lumet