Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon (1975) is generally considered a classic. As far as I can recall (and it has been a few years since I saw it, so I may just be forgetting), that film did not tell too much of the true story that inspired it. Documentary The Dog (2013) aims to fill that gap by telling the life story of John Wojtowicz, who was played by Al Pacino in the Lumet film.
The Dog tells of how Wojtowicz took the extreme step of robbing a bank so that he could pay for his wife’s sex change operation. Along the way it paints a broader picture of what it was like to be gay in that period and at times, provides an insight into Wojtowicz’s psyche. It also brings into more clarity some points that were either not clear or explained deeply in Lumet’s film, such as the shocking archival footage of the crowd yelling “queer” and “fag” at Wojtowicz during the robbery. So much for being on the side of this Robin Hoodish underdog, which is how I recall it being presented in the film. One of the strengths of the film also sort of highlights one of the weaknesses. The history of the Activist Alliance and broad history of the early gay rights struggle is really interesting and provides a lot of context. But it is also more interesting that the specific story of Wojtowicz and the bank robbery which is the main focus of the film. The film is very slick and professional looking. Not much more though, and the same is really true of all aspects of the film’s construction and look. All well done, but not overly creative.
One hurdle that many documentaries face is that they spend a lot of time in the company of deeply unlikeable characters. It is an issue that definitely impacts on enjoyment of The Dog as the hungry for attention Wojtowicz is a person who does not seem pleasant to be around. Given the reasons for his bank robbery, I was expecting something a little more romantic. The film, at least early on does give some interesting insight into the troubled aspects of Wojtowicz’s person. How he went to Vietnam and lost a whole lot of his friends. How that changed him from a staunch Republican to a “peacenik” (not suggesting that makes him troubled by the way). Periods in the second half though just feel like they are designed to give Wojtowicz a ranting platform rather than truly examining what he did and what has made him the person that he is. The best nuggets about his personality come early when he is not gloating about the robbery his sexual prowess. But when he is examining his early change and life, saying things like “anyone can be straight. It takes someone special to be gay.” Given he is so unlikeable, I would have perhaps liked the makers of this film to mix up their approach a little more. Even with more engaging or likeable people, it is difficulty to maintain interest at required levels when the film consists mostly of just a single talking head.
Verdict: There is plenty to hold your interest in The Dog, especially some of the broader history around the early gay rights struggles. If you are any fan of Lumet’s film, then this film helps to provide a lot more context for it as well. I would just have loved to see more people spoken to in order to mix it up a bit, or a little more creativity in the film. Stubby of Reschs