Sign up for our free newsletter
Free D.C. news, delivered to your inbox daily.
Moviegoers, and New Yorkers above a certain age, remember John Wojtowicz as the hapless, charismatic bank robber portrayed by Al Pacino in Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon. You know the story: hostages, transgender lover, “Attica!”, etc. In that 1975 classic, Wojtowicz’s story began outside a Brooklyn bank and ended on the tarmac at JFK, with Wojtowicz in cuffs and his accomplice in a body bag. The Dog, Allison Berg and Frank Keraudren’s sensitive and nuanced documentary, begins earlier and ends later, allocating only about 30 minutes to the actual 1972 crime around which their story pivots. Wojtowicz, an eager and chatty lothario (or, in his words, a “pervert”), describes the earlier era, when, estranged from his wife, he became an unlikely participant in the nascent gay rights movement. Later, following his crime, the bisexual Wojtowicz was a target in prison; after his release, Wojtowicz embraces pseudo-celebrity, making nightclub appearances and wearing a T-shirt that reads, “I Robbed This Bank.” Puppy-like in his enthusiasm, Wojtowicz isn’t anything like the intense fuck-up Pacino earned an Oscar nomination for playing; the far more tragic figure is Liz Eden, the lover whose sex reassignment surgery Wojtowicz hoped to fund by robbing the bank. (He eventually paid for it when he sold the movie rights to his story.) The relationship didn’t last, and while both Wojtowicz and Eden exploited their notoriety to some extent, her story ends in 1987 with poverty, prostitution, and AIDS. Wojtowicz died 19 years later of cancer, and you sense only one them would have been proud to have that attempted robbery lead their obituaries.