on 26 June 2011
This film is based on a true story, and stars Al Pacino as Frank Serpico, the title of the film. Newly recruited as a New York cop, Serpico sees the corruption that is going on, and wants no part of it. All he wants to be is an honest cop. But others around him think otherwise and try to tempt him into their corrupt world. He gets transferred several times to different police precincts that are 'clean'. But once there, he finds that there is no such thing, and becomes a lone crusader trying to clean up the New York city police force. The trouble is no one wants to know, and his reputation follows him, and he soon becomes the most disliked cop in New York.
Every once in a while along comes a film that has something special, and this film is one of them. It concentrates on story rather than action, and tells a good one. Anybody who likes 70's cop films, or is a fan of Al Pacino MUST SEE THIS FILM. The New York locations are gritty and real (104 different locations). And portrays the seedier side, back in the 70's. This ranks high on the list of Al Pacino's greatest films, and proves that a good film done right does not need to rely on action sequences to make it a box office hit, and this film was done right. This borders on the edge of brilliance.
The film is presented in a ratio of 1.78:1. The original ratio was 1.85:1. But most of Paramount's dvd releases are in this ratio if the original was shot in 1.85:1. Picture Quality is razor sharp, with no grain at all, and according to the box the audio is in 5.1. (The film was originally shot in mono).
This is the reason for the blu-ray era. Not just the immaculate film reproduction but also the enlightening 43 page booklet included within the case. We learn that the movie was shot in just 51 days. The one outstanding experience I had whilst watching was the perfectly formed sense of time and place. The pealing paint on office walls, the colour in the clothes but most of all those wonderful old, old cars. I watched on projection as I sat on a stoop of a New York street.
The movie is about the laws within us and not just the laws written. The character of Serpico is one of self reliance. And love. You see that in the way he chooses a pet dog. In the way he responds to the chatter of a neighbour. He falls for her and her for him. Some call it intelligence. Compatible humour.
At some point you know you are going to learn the reason for him becoming police. I understood that reason. Ignorance is no way forward. I really enjoyed reading about what it takes to win an Oscar. Acting for an Oscar requires only an exaggerated visual performance. We should replace 'best' with 'most' says Karina Longworth, former chief film critic for LA Weekly. Accents do it, make-up (especially scars), deformities or drastic weight loss. She describes Pacino's acting as 'devoid of vanity.' He is Serpico.
The only other thing worthy of note is that it is proper widescreen, no black bars. So take a trip back to the early seventies. When you had room to be. But society was the same.
on 15 September 2001
Taken from the true story of the life of Frank Serpico, this important film stirred up controversy and showed us a side of police departments that they certainly don't want shown. Serpico plays the only honest cop who doesn't take bribes and kickbacks. What is scary is the casual manner the other cops in the film just view taking the graft is just part of the job just like loading their guns. We also see a scary lesson of what happens when one honest man takes on an entire bureaucracy that does not welcome him and what can ultimately happen to him. How many other Serpico's are out there past and present who never got to tell their story for one reason or another. A powerful film that is just as relevant today as when it was made.
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.
Looking at this nearly 40 years on, it's hard to imagine that policing was ever like this. On the face of it, being a cop was seen by many as a simple way of creaming some fairly hefty amounts of cash from criminals and business owners alike and simply keeping out of harm's way. This wasn't a time when you'd want to need police or medical support. The hospital in the film is a million years away from ER and the like, but no doubt representative of the time.
It's shot in a very realistic almost documentary-like style, possibly ahead of its time, and has an outstanding performance from Al Pacino as the cop with scruples and integrity. You don't even think he's acting, he's so perfect in the role. The supporting cast is unknown, which adds to the sense of realism.
Apart from a wonderful Pacino, the film, which was shot in 1973 is fascinating just for the real-life costumes and sets. The cops were mostly out-of-touch throwbacks to the conformist element of the 60s, whereas Serpico was in touch with the street and stuck out like a sore thumb in the force with his hippyish gear and mental hats.
If nothing else, the film shows how much things have hopefully improved over the years. Who would choose to go back to that?
This ranks for me as one of Pacino's best on screen efforts, though I like numerous other films he's done too.
Here we have a true story which follows Police Officer Frank Serpico whom is played by Pacino convincingly, he starts off a a normal "green" cop, but soon finds a taste for the undercover plain clothes operation. Serpico is a man of morals and refuses to accept bribes from local mobsters and the Mafia. Soon he finds himself on the outside of the police community as they see him a risk and loose canon, Serpico's oddball looks and refusal to accept pay off's soon puts his life in danger as his colleagues turn the other way at critical times. He faces a choice to either go with the police corruption or testify against his colleagues and expose the department to the Knapp Commission.
It's a simple plot one honest cop's stubborn refusal to bow to pressure; his personal life suffers and his career is sidetracked as he stands alone in his department. Pacino does a fine job of portraying the stress and edge of Frank Serpico. Script is excellent as is direction from Sidney Lumet, even the soundtrack is worthy of a mention. Everything fits together very well in a polished production, the film was a commercial success despite a fairly modest budget from the studio. This is more a thinkers film with some smaller action parts, more an exploration in a slower burn way..not really a fast pace, but the story unfolds in a way which never leaves your attention wandering.
Not an easy job to play this part with such conviction, but Pacino has real edge and is completely immersive in his performance. One of the most appealing aspects of the film is the true nature of events, it's a hard film to fault in many ways. A real must watch despite the somewhat dated feel, some great acting here (not just Pacino). This should feature high up the list of true story film fans.
on 19 April 2011
'Serpico' sees Frank Serpico (Pacino) graduate from the police academy and join the NYPD as a uniform officer before working his way through the ranks to become a plain clothes undercover cop. The expected etiquette is to be on the take from illegal gambling organizations, drug dealers and the rest of the criminal fraternity trying to cut themselves a deal. Serpico is clean and wants to perform his job with integrity, arrest the bad guys and sleep with a clean conscience.
Pacino is brilliant, first as the clean cut innocent rookie and later as the frustrated undercover cop, I can't recommend this highly enough as Pacino never puts a foot out of place and this film is a stonewall classic.
on 16 January 2003
Great movie by Sidney Lumet (sreenplay by Waldo Salt, who wrote Midnigt Cowboy). Based on the real-life story of NYPD Detective Frank Serpico, who refused the, at that time, standard practice of being paied of by the mob. This was Al Pacino's first movie after finishing Godfather part I. It is hard to say anything negative about this film. The story is great, Al has not yet become over the top in his style of acting and script and direction is inspired. If you love the films from the period this is a must see.
on 15 December 2010
Its a pity they dont make movies like this anymore. Gritting reality in the way New York City really was in the early 70s.
Funky suits, big cars, the Bronx and Brooklyn. If you enjoyed The French Connection, you'll love this.
One of Pacinos best performances along with Dog Day Afternoon in my opinion.
So sums up Al Pacino's Frank Serpico when describing his frustrated attempts at exposing police corruption in Sidney Lumet's superb 1973 New York-based drama, based on real-life events. What is, of course, interesting (and sad) about Lumet's film (one of the earliest films on this, now much explored, subject) is that recent stories of whistleblower suppression and continued police corruption appear to be just as prevalent today as they were in Serpico's era. Running to over two hours duration, Serpico is an increasingly intense, claustrophobic study of one man's fight against the ever-tightening (but strangely ever-widening) circle of corruption, and showcasing, for me, one of Pacino's finest ever screen performances (the equal of that in The Godfather films and in another Lumet classic, Dog Day Afternoon), and for which he received a best actor Oscar nomination.
The look and feel of Lumet's film is authentic early-70s New York City, calling to mind the films of Scorsese, with some impressive, fast-moving, hand-held camerawork courtesy of DoP Arthur J Ornitz, plus an evocative soundtrack courtesy of Zorba's Dance composer Mikis Theodorakis, whose main themes recall those of Nino Rota's for The Godfather, appropriately enough for this tale of Italian-American, Francesco Serpico. Lumet also makes reference to Serpico's Italian heritage, with its strong sense of family, as the cop objects to his family's attempts to 'match-make' for him, and defies them again by moving out of family neighbourhood and into the trendy, bohemian, post-hippy Greenwich Village.
Indeed, it becomes clear very quickly that Serpico is a bit too much of a 'progressive intellectual and maverick' for his force colleagues, as he listens to opera and dates a ballet dancer, Leslie (an impressive Cornelia Sharpe), and that he takes seriously the principles espoused in the film's early (and brilliantly ironic) 'passing out' ceremony, namely that all officers should maintain integrity, honesty and compassion and treat people with dignity and respect. Thereafter, as Serpico moves to plain-clothes undercover duties, and his appearance becomes more and more outlandish (long hair, beard, earrings, etc), he begins to realise that his reluctance to conform to existing corrupt practices and the dead-ends he repeatedly comes up against when trying to report the corruption to more senior levels in the force, are leaving him increasingly exposed.
Pacino's portrayal of the distrusting and increasingly pressurised central character is excellent throughout. Elsewhere, there is sterling support from Lumet's cast of character actors, with particularly impressive turns from James Tolkan as the strict, vindictive Lieutenant Steiger, Edward Grover as one of Serpico's remaining trusted colleagues, Lombardo, and from John Randolph as Chief Sidney Green.
Watching the film again for the first time in over 20 years reminds me of what a fine director Lumet was, and Serpico certainly sits impressively amongst a body of work which also included Twelve Angry Men, Dog Day Afternoon, The Pawnbroker, The Hill, Network and his later film which further explored the subject of police corruption (almost as impressively as Serpico), Prince Of The City.