Serpico (1973)

serpico

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: A cop fights corruption.

One of the followers of this blog has requested that I review this movie, so today we take a look at Frank Serpico (Al Pacino) a policeman who fought against corruption that plagued New York’s police department during the ‘60s. Even though many of his partners on the force would accept under-the-table payouts from criminal elements in exchange for ‘looking-the-other-way’ he wouldn’t and when he would tell his superiors about it nothing would get done. Instead they would transfer him to other precincts only for him to find the same problems there. It was only when he decided to report the issue to the New York Times that people started to take action, but in the process he also made himself a mark and vulnerable to having his unhappy comrades set him up to be shot while on-duty.

The film is based on the Peter Maas novel, which in turn recounts the life of the actual Frank Serpico and the events he went through while working on the force between the years of 1959 to 1972. Not only does he remain alive today, but according to recent reports is even considering, at the ripe old age of 79, a run at political office. Equally interesting is that he and Pacino roomed together during the summer that this was filmed and became close friends.

It’s been years since I’ve read the novel, but I felt this film sticks closely to what actually happened and the always reliable Sidney Lumet manages to keep things exciting and insightful. The dialogue is sharp and the on-location shooting, which was done in every borough of New York except Staten Island, gives the viewer an authentic feel of the city as well as the police environment.

The film also does a successful job at showing the drawbacks of accepting bribes without ever getting preachy or heavy-handed. One might think, like many of Serpico’s partners do, that taking some kickbacks isn’t that big of a deal, but then the film shows in one brief moment a policeman shoving another man’s head into a toilet when he doesn’t ‘pay up’, which hits home how the police become no better than organized crime who would notoriously demand ‘protection money’ from business owners.

The only thing I didn’t like was the music, which was too loud and jarring. Fortunately it’s put in only sparingly, but its melodic quality takes away from the grittiness and the film works far better by simply relying on the ambient sounds of the locations that the scenes are in. In fact this is one movie that could’ve done fine without any music at all.

Pacino is fantastic and I loved how the character starts out as this clean shaven, boyish looking fellow only to grow into a bearded, long haired guy as the story progresses, which symbolically connects with the way he becomes savvier to the system. The character also sports earrings long before it became vogue for males to wear them.

Tony Roberts does well as one of the few cops that sides with Serpico and tries to help him in his fight and F. Murray Abraham can be spotted near the end as a member of a vice squad who tries setting Serpico up to be killed. This movie also marks the film debuts of character actors Alan Rich and Kenneth McMillan. In my mind this is also the debut of Judd Hirsh. Some sources state that his first onscreen appearance is in Jump, which came out two years earlier, but I watched that film and couldn’t spot him anywhere, but her I was able to spot him right away.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: December 5, 1973

Runtime: 2Hours 10Minutes

Rated R

Director: Sidney Lumet

Studio: Paramount

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

2 responses to “Serpico (1973)

  1. Joseph Kearny

    Pacino shouts everyone down and it gets tiresome. Domestic scenes are soapy. There doesn’t seem to be an honest cop anywhere. Prince of the City is far better.

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