The Dog is a highly entertaining if slightly indulgent look at the life of John Wojtowicz, the man who was portrayed by Al Pacino in Lumet’s classic Dog Day Afternoon.
Wojtowicz is a pretty fascinating guy who crammed more than his share of lives into his time on earth, and we learn from a series of frank and at times filthy interviews about his various escapades. To the film’s credit, it effectively situates his life within the nascent gay rights movement of the early 70s, showcasing through a series of vintage documentary footage the environment in which the more celebrated events of DDA took place.
Behind the sensationalistic story of a bank robbery committed so that a man could get his male wife a sex-change operation, the film effectively traces the story back to what at the time was a near preposterous move, the attempt to solidify gay marriage as a socially acceptable act. Simply as a document for how much has changed in the four decades since, with the onslaught of AIDS and the growing acceptance for the rights of the LGBT community in the US, the film grants us unique and highly provocative access into the early days that set these events in motion.
The film allows John to tell his story his way, while we meet a number of other key players in his life that tell the tale with equal frankness, if occasionally under a mask of self-delusion.
Sure, the talking-head motif gets a bit tiresome as the film runs on, especially as the inevitable wind-down after the events of the bank robbery take place, but there’s still enough provocative stuff in the back half of the film to keep things interesting. For such a larger-than-life character, there’s a lot to take in, yet the filmmakers do a reasonable job at keeping things on an even keel and not slipping into aggrandizement or myth-making.
No one from the fictional world of Dog Dayprovides comment, which might be a disappointment to some, but John’s own explicit take is entertaining enough to sustain the work. Even if the film is destined to be “merely” a Blu-ray supplement, it would certainly make for an excellent companion to one of the great films of all time. A fascinating if perhaps flawed look at this man, the film nonetheless is an engrossing and at times revelatory look at this larger-than-life character.