130 Min | Biography – Crime – Drama | December 1973
IMDB Rating: 7.8
Director: Sidney Lumet
Starring: Al Pacino, John Randolph, Jack Kehoe
Serpico Review: “Serpico” will always be one of the more compelling biographies ever made because its main character, even in the face of an unfair and corrupt world, clings to the virtue of honesty and comes out all right. Stories like that of Frank Serpico, a NYC cop in the late ’60s – early ’70s who bravely testified against police corruption, fascinate us because they make us wonder what we would do in that character’s shoes and feel glad that at the end of the day we don’t have to answer that question. Al Pacino stars as the man with these trivial choices, Frank Serpico, who was asked to be the snitch for the NYPD in the Bronx in terms of identifying officers taking bribes from criminals, a role that subjected him to harassment and threats from his fellow officers and caused him extreme amounts of trauma affecting his job and his personal life.
The script, written partially by Waldo Salt (“Midnight Cowboy”) is adequate enough to give us a taste of Serpico’s moral dilemma. Most of the effective parts are the melodramatic scenes that allow Pacino to use those famous pipes. Everyone in the supporting cast is pretty much forgettable too – they’re all actors prescribed to Hollywood’s older school of supporting acting roles, just speak with authority in your voice. It’s fine, since the film would rather us just identify the as the collective “powers of corruption.” “Serpico” is not Lumet’s best work, but it has its moments of great visual strength as all his films generally have. He’s probably one of the best ever up there with Hitchcock in terms of picking his close-ups. This is really Pacino’s chance to shine anyway.
What’s respectable about the overall tone of Serpico is that it doesn’t preach morals or make empty promises that the good will always be rewarded in the end and the bad punished – instead, it says that hard honest work counts for something. Serpico takes a bullet to the face for all his grief and leaves the force and the country not long after. Not exactly a happy ending, but a different way of inspiring us in the sense that at least the corruption didn’t win.