Look at all those 1960s heist movies – gents with David Niven accents in cat-burglar outfits effortlessly walking out of Monte Carlo with a heist of diamonds. How different the 1970s heist movie. In the decade when it became apparent that, economically, everything was falling apart, director Sidney Lumet caught the mood perfectly in a bank job movie set in a city crumbling faster than most others, New York. And there’s Al Pacino as our hero. Not a normal bank robber, but a slightly rubbish one, married but gay, cackhandedly stealing money so his boyfriend can have a gender reassignment operation – sexual orientation being another one of those little things that seemed to be making its presence more strongly felt in the 1970s, and treated by Lumet with a remarkable lack of sensationalism. On the subject of which, there’s another crucial element in the film, the media. Not your question-and-answer merchants in trilbys but ravenning news-harpies whose presence doesn’t just distort reality, it creates it. Add to that Pacino’s haunted performance, one of four or so in the early 1970s that turned him into a star beyond the pillowy imaginings of a Cruise or a Pitt, and you’ve got one of the defining films of the era.
© Steve Morrissey 2007