Chris Sarandon received his first Oscar nomination for portraying Leon Shermer in Dog Day Afternoon.
Sarandon is the center of his two scenes as Leon who is the man brought in for Sonny after Sonny requested that his wife be brought to the scene of the botched robbery. Leon is the homosexual lover of Sonny as well as a pre-operative transsexual. Sarandon has only two scenes to establish his character who is an important one in the film, but Sarandon is completely successful in realizing Leon even though he does not have much time to do so. This was Sarandon first film role, but there is not amateurism in his performance. He is instantly up to the task of the part, and manages to hold the screen when he finally does appear.
Portraying a homosexual character can easily be a place where an actor can overact, or actually simply show their abilities. Thankfully Sarandon stands on the William Hurt in Kiss of the Spider Woman side of things rather than the Ed Harris in the Hours side. Sarandon certainly uses some mannerisms in his performance being not only a pre-operative transsexual but also quite dazed from coming out of a drug induced state. Sarandon though carries these subtly and always as the character. It only serves to amplify Leon as a character, and it never feels like an obvious performance ever.
Chris Sarandon is absolutely terrific in both of his scenes. Sarandon is very effective in his first scene showing Leon to a very confused person by both the situation with Sonny, as well as his own current situation in his life. Sarandon is completely convincing in this scene showing exactly who Leon is, and showing us where exactly Leon has come from. Sarandon doesn't once overplay any moment of when Leon is telling the police how he has gotten to this point with Sonny. Sarandon brings to life his emotional pressure on Leon, as well as his pain vividly without a false moment.
Where he is great in his first scene he is incredible in his second when he has a phone call with Sonny. This is a shining moment in both Pacino's and Sarandon's performance as they absolutely nail the relationship between the two. Sarandon is excellent here because he shows that Leon has one very complex relationship with Sonny. He shows Leon as emotional and frightened over the events transpiring, and looking to Sonny for some sort of comfort, but at the same time Sarandon always conveys that Leon is also a bit scared of Sonny as well. Sarandon is quite heartbreaking because he does have Leon care very much for Sonny, but at the same time there is always a pain there indicating the unpredictability of their relationship that Sarandon shows Leon has trouble dealing with.
After this scene Leon is not seen again, but nevertheless in this one scene the two actors say it all really between the two. It is an amazing scene that is one of the most memorable scenes in the film thanks to both of the actors. Although Sarandon is only these two scenes he is great in both of them fully realizing Leon as a real person. Sarandon completely is Leon, and gives a strong performance making the absolutely most of every second of screen time, as well not once failing to meet the challenge of such a unique character as Leon is.