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Fantasy Casting: If They Made DOG DAY AFTERNOON Today...

Let’s pretend that legendary Warner Bros. producer Martin Bergman accidentally lost Frank Pierson’s Oscar winning screenplay for the film between some couch cushions in 1975 and only stumbled upon it this past January... who would we cast for the picture?

You€™ve likely clicked on this feature because you are intrigued, confused, outraged or some flustered amalgam of all three at the shear audacity of a Dog Day Afternoon remake. For those of you who find yourselves in the third category, hold your pitchforks and torches at bay for the moment and allow me a few paragraphs to illustrate exactly what I€™m trying to accomplish with what I hope will become a regular fixture here at WhatCulture!. Don€™t let the headline fool you. This article is by no means a recommendation or demand that Dog Day Afternoon be remade, re-imagined, repackaged or whatever term Hollywood uses when it trots out unnecessary retreads year after year. This is a purely hypothetical exercise, meant to examine how the 2011 iteration of Hollywood would hand and develop a classic project if it were presented as new. To be even clearer, let€™s pretend that legendary Warner Bros. producer Martin Bergman accidentally lost Frank Pierson€™s Academy Award-winning screenplay for the film between some couch cushions in 1975 and only stumbled upon it this past January. I€™m sure he€™d have his own ideas about whom he would pluck out of today€™s talent crop to cast the film. Here are mine:

SPIKE LEE, Director

Before you get smart, no, I am not just selecting him because he directed another NYC-set bank robbery yarn with Inside Man, though I will admit that his ability to deliver a commercially marketable film in this genre definitely figured prominently in my decision to opt for Lee as the successor to the recently departed Sidney Lumet. Furthermore, when Lee was really at his best (Malcom X, Do The Right Thing), he was always an expert at carefully examining the point at which social injustices become too much for his protagonists to bear and force them to take radical and morally questionable action. It€™s this is exact dynamic that scorches the edges of Dog Day Afternoon, and one that would fit well with Lee€™s activist sensibilities.

SAM ROCKWELL as Sonny Wortzik

I would not be so brash as to suggest that Sam Rockwell can elevate this role to the extent at Al Pacino did, but I think he might be closer than you think. The fact of the matter he is one of the most versatile and talented actors working today, one who is rarely utilized to the fullest of his abilities. Perhaps Rockwell prefers it that way. The signature role of his career to date is undoubtedly his turn in Duncan Jones€™ 2009 effort Moon, a film chiefly designed to stretch Rockwell€™s creative muscles if not to attract audiences in droves. Still, I can think of few other contemporary actors who can channel the certain kind of simmering intensity required to portray Sonny. There are lot of performers who can pull off the screaming Attica scene, and there even more who can sell the measured and wistful recitation of Sonny€™s last will and testament near the close of the film, but Rockwell possesses the tools to deliver on both fronts.

JEFFREY WRIGHT as Sal Naturile

In a lot of ways, this was the most confounding call I had to make in this ambitious endeavor, both because Sal is such a challenging character to get your head around and because John Cazale is one of the most uniquely gifted talents to have ever graced the screen. Rather than try and replicate Cazale€™s masterful showing as Sonny€™s bashful and geographically challenged muscleman, I€™ve gone another way, banking on Jeffrey Wright€™s stoic and calculating vibe. Wright has made his money as a bankable ensemble performer, often separating himself from the pack of talented costars with he tends to surround himself.

PAUL GIAMATTI as Detective Sgt. Eugene Moretti

This choice is mostly due to the fact that Paul Giamatti simply hasn€™t been in the business of making lousy movies lately. Though he is by no means a box office draw, that€™s not why you put Paul Giamatti in your movie. If I may be so blunt, you put Paul Giamatti in your movie because he works his ass off to make your movie great. Though Moretti is not as iconic a role as the two leads, he€™s a critical foil to Sonny in the film€™s early going and I can see Giamatti expertly riding that line between an authority figure and a guy who is not equipped for the spectacle that becomes of Sonny€™s attempted robbery and subsequent standoff.

JAMES FRANCO as Leon

I suspect this might be the selection that€™s met with the most criticism, primarily since the backlash against James Franco€™s ubiquity is in full force these days. Lest we forget, however, that when he€™s not penning subpar short story collections or making love to Japanese body pillows, Franco remains one hell of a compelling performer. No stranger to donning women€™s clothes and cosmetics, Franco is just crazy and committed enough to inhabit the role of Sonny€™s pre-op transsexual partner that earned Chris Sarandon an Oscar nod. Say what you want about the trajectory of Sarandon€™s career post-€œPrincess Bride,€ but he sells the hell of out Leon, a role that could have easily devolved into caricature. I raise this point because while Franco has taken some roles that seem fairly goofy on the surface, you always get the sense that he is taking everything completely seriously and trying to make it work. It€™s almost as though he knows something that the rest of us don€™t, and it€™s that precise kind of manic sincerity that makes him tailor made for this part.

CHRISTINA RICCI as Angie

Though it might be a stretch to believe she could be married to Rockwell (he€™s 42, she€™s 31), Christina Ricci€™s early start in the business has made her wise beyond her years and I suspect she€™d fill in admirable as Sonny€™s homely and estranged wife. FEATURING I€™ll also throw out Allison Janney as Sylvia, the mouthy and matronly head teller; James Marsden as FBI Agent Sheldon who assumes control of the negotiations from Moretti; and the incomparable Richard Jenkins as Mulvaney, the bank€™s worn-down manager. In the opening I neglected to mention that I€™m by no means presenting these choices as the foremost authority on how a hypothetical 2011 €œDog Day Afternoon€ ought to shake out. In fact, it€™s my hope that you all will furnish comments section with your own ideas about who you€™d like to see bring this entirely hypothetical film to fruition. Have at it!
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