There's so much about Serpico that typifies urban crime in '70s America. This true-life account of police corruption benefits from Sidney Lumet's workmanlike and unflashy direction, with gritty streets with their even grittier natives, providing the backdrop.
Al Pacino produces one his best ever (Oscar nominated) performances, unsullied by the overacting that blighted his later career. Going undercover and wishing to remain as un-policeman like as possible, at least in appearance, Frank Serpico has a complex home life, that we fortunately get to share, as this helps us establish his character.
For 1973, we are allowed many subjects that we now take for granted but few could, or dared back then. Drugs, an overwhelming paranoia over homosexuality in the force and some graphic violence are handled - times have moved on, of course and so their treatment is varied, shall we say.
There is a lot of detailed talk and natural scenarios that lead onto other scenarios and as such, there aren't shoot-outs every five minutes. This is an intelligent film that does have its moments of action but it's about the man Serpico and his mounting enemy - his own employers. That's enough for any person to handle and Serpico doesn't always handle them well. But, that all adds up to an even more interesting story.
John Randolph co-stars as Serpico's Chief and the whole cast, a plethora of people from low-lifes to cops are all uniformly good.
Why only four stars? This film has been round for quite a while and this latest viewing must have been my fourth. It remains very watchable, every now and again but it has lost its bite a bit and its length is just a bit more than one can about bear, at 130 mins. For Pacino watchers and those who enjoy a good, absorbing cop drama, especially an adult gritty one, then Serpico is a must.