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The story of John Wojtowicz, a man whose failed bank robbery to pay for his lover’s sex reassignment surgery turned him into a media celebrity, was immortalized in Sidney Lumet’s 1975 masterpiece “Dog Day Afternoon,” with Al Pacino giving one of his best performances as the fictionalized “Sonny Wortzik.” But the true story of Wojtowicz has its own fascination, particularly regarding his life before and after the event.
Wojtowicz, it turns out, is not the quietly desperate man of Lumet’s film, but a born character who relishes every moment in the spotlight. The film explores his journey from closeted Catholic to Gay Activist to convicted bank robber, but it also covers his relationships with his ex-wife, his lover, and his mother, and the complexities of the man. He could be both violent and loving, predatory and giving, a born showman and a man hiding sadder truths beneath the showmanship.
More thoughts from the Criticwire Network:
Serena Donadoni, Metro Times
Allison Berg and Frank Keraudren let Wojtowicz call “Action!” and “Cut!” while populating their documentary with interviews that go beyond his surface swagger. From his Vietnam War experience and the years as Littlejohn Basso in the early gay rights movement to prison life and beyond, “The Dog” profiles a charming and predatory man in love with his strange fame. Read more.
Eric Kohn, Indiewire
Working as both an unofficial “Dog Day” sequel and unconventional overview of New York gay culture from the past 40 years, “The Dog” combines archival footage, still photographs, and testaments from many of those who knew Wojtowicz well to construct a vivid account of his strange trajectory. But “The Dog” derives its main strengths from its happily vulgar subject, the central narrator for the story both in flashbacks and in the later stages of his life as he looks back on his exploits. Read more.
Matt Zoller Seitz, RogerEbert.com
The human face and voice are the real stars of “The Dog.” Its true subject is not Little John’s crime or the personal and historical circumstances that led to it, but the mysteries of personality. Every few minutes there’s a revelation or admission that lesser documentaries would save for their finales, such as Little John confessing that he encouraged his partner-in-crime to force himself on a third wannabe-robber who eventually bailed out, or Terry admitting that she used to follow her son around the Village as he cruised (he had no idea). Just when you think the story can’t possibly take you anywhere new, it does. A revelation in the final third shines new light on everything Little John and his mother told us. Read more.
Scott Tobias, The Dissolve
Saying Wojtowicz was a bit of a character understates the jovial, pugnacious, profane, emphatic, devious, and iconoclastic figure on display in “The Dog.” Just as he courted the media, taunted the police, and played to the crowd during the standoff, Wojtowicz could not be happier to show off for Berg and Keraudren’s cameras, though sadder and more disturbing revelations seep through the façade. Read more.