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In the early 1970s, one man stood up to the entire New York City police force. Hailed as a hero by many, hated by others, officer Frank Serpico made headlines when he blew the whistle on a culture of bribery and corruption within the department. His one-man crusade for police reform inspired the Al Pacino classic that bears his name, but the real life saga is as gripping as anything Hollywood could dream up. Now, Serpico tells his story in his own words: from his Italian-American roots in Brooklyn to his disillusionment with the NYPD to his riveting account of a dramatic drug bust and possible set-up that ended with him being shot in the face. Featuring music by Jack White and interviews with Serpico s associates and admirers including Luc Sante and John Turturro this is an inspiring, all-access portrait of a courageous man who refused to betray his ideals.
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Serpico was a young policeman in New York in the sixties and early seventies. He saw widespread corruption in law enforcement (officers taking bribes, etc.) and his sense of honour and his moral code was offended. But his response did not stop there. He took action. He reported the moral decay he witnessed to his superiors and testified repeatedly to lawmakers to try to initiate change and reform. He stuck his neck out when many others who might be equally disturbed by the corruption around them would not have had the courage to do so.
And it cost him. Big time. Serpico was ostracized, his life was imperiled and the toll it took on him mentally and physically, was and continues to this day to be, siginificant.
This new documentary by Antonio D'Ambrosio attempts to show Frank Serpico, warts and all. Through extensive interviews with Serpico and former friends and colleagues (not to mention enemies) as well as clips from the Al Pacino Oscar-nominated film SERPICO, Serpico's epic journey from rookie to celebrity to chump to whistle blower to outcast and to celebrity is vividly conveyed, sometimes with alarming frankness. One hand-shaking, slap on the back reunion with a former colleague soon deteriorates into an uncomfortable trip down memory back lane when it becomes apparent that the former colleague of Serpico's was one of his detractors. And while it's all water under the bridge now, to this fellow's credit he doesn't back off from his criticisms of Serpico and his relentless drive to expose the New York Police Department as a den of corruption.
One excellent choice by director/producer/writer D'Ambrosio is his use of clips from the Pacino film. Why use re-enactments when you've got the scenes you want already intact, directed by no less a director than the great Sidney Lumet? Anything less than Lumet's gritty, '70's-era approach would have paled by comparison.
Where the film takes a tragic turn is when it becomes obvious that Frank Serpico's bull-headed integrity has taken a terrible toll on him. He truly suffers from PTSD and might even be seen to be a little crazy. D'Ambrosio wisely does not comment, but lets the viewer decide for himself if and how much Serpico is mentally disturbed by his experiences.
Was what Serpico did necessary? To him, yes. Was his approach the best? For him, yes. Was the cost to his physical and mental well-being too great? You decide.
When you live by the credo "Never run when you're right" it is bound to cost. Even when motivated by the unique type of stubborn moral integrity possessed by Frank Serpico, not everyone is going to admire what you do and how you do it. Very few of us could do what Frank Serpico did. Not everyone would want to. This outstanding film shows the rightness, the wrongness, and the everything in between-ness of the cost of personal integrity and morality.
Frank tells his story in his own words from his Italian-American roots in Brooklyn to his disillusionment with the NYPD to his gripping account of a dramatic drug bust — and possible set up — that ended with him being shot in the face.
Serpico joined the New York City Police Department in September, 1959 as a probationary patrolman and became a full patrolman in March, 1960. He was assigned to the 81st precinct, then worked for the Bureau of Criminal Identification for two years. He was finally assigned to work plainclothes, where he uncovered widespread corruption. When his complaints fell on deaf ears within the department, he eventually contributed to a New York Times front-page story on widespread corruption in the NYPD which drew national attention to the problem. Mayor John V. Lindsay appointed a panel, known as the Knapp Commission, to investigate accusations of police corruption.
Serpico revisits many actual locations that played a part in his story, including the restaurant where his father had his shoe shine shop, his old apartment building, and the actual site at which he was shot. In the latter sequence, Serpico leads director Antonio D’Ambrosio through a reenactment of his shooting, along with clips from Lumet’s film.
Serpico is especially proud of his undercover skills as he methodically recalls specific cases and arrests. The film includes archival footage, interviews with former colleagues and friends, and actor John Turturro praising Serpico’s integrity in the face of increasing frustration and ostracism by his fellow police officers.
Special features on the unrated widescreen DVD release include alternate opening, deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes footage, and trailer.