If "Dog Day Afternoon" was Hollywood's fiery snapshot of Brooklyn bank robber John Wojtowicz's legendary 1972 standoff with authorities and the media, then Allison Berg's and Frank Keraudren's engrossing new documentary, "The Dog," is the outsized Wojtowicz in full.
Wojtowicz died in 2006 after giving 10 years of interviews and archival access to the filmmakers. It's a biography that tracks the saucer-eyed, motormouth eccentric and self-professed "pervert" through early marriage, sexual awakening in Vietnam (you'll never hear the term "summer breeze" in the same way again) and early '70s gay rights activism, bolstered by extraordinary black-and-white video footage of the Gay Activists Alliance. Then comes his fated relationship with sex-reassignment-seeking Liz Eden (including footage of their wedding) and the spiral of prison life and controversial fame that followed his portrayal by Al Pacino.
Exaggerated imitations of Pacino's vocal style, incidentally, have nothing on the real Wojtowicz's gloriously theatrical Brooklynese. The film is a real "whew"-factor yarn, a hearty soup of thick accents, bold personalities and complicated motives, with an unmistakable taste of charismatic, ornery American hedonism.
It's not hard to glean from Wojtowicz's hard-as-nails mother, Terry, one of the film's more memorable figures, a sense of exasperation regarding her devoted son's crazy life. She stuck by him, though, and as "The Dog" entertainingly unravels his stranger-than-fiction existence, it's not hard to see why.
MPAA rating: None.
Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.
Playing: At Cinefamily and Downtown Independent, Los Angeles.