Adapted by Waldo Salt and Norman Wexler from Peter Maas's book, Sidney Lumet's drama portrays the real-life struggle of an honest New York City cop against a corrupt system. Neophyte officer Frank Serpico (Al Pacino) is determined not to let his job get in the way of his individuality. Despite his colleagues' leery reactions, he keeps one foot firmly planted in the counterculture, sporting a beard and love beads and living in bohemian Greenwich Village, while he performs his police duties with dispatch. Serpico's peers genuinely ostracize him, however, when he refuses to take bribes like everybody else. Appalled by the extent of police corruption, Serpico goes to his superiors, but when he discovers that they have ignored his charges, he takes the potentially fatal step of breaking the blue wall of silence and going public with his expos+ª. Serpico's revelations trigger an independent investigation by the Knapp Commission, but they also make him a marked man, permanently changing his life. Shot on location with a gritty emphasis on documentary-style realism, Serpico presents a city in decay both literally and morally, as everybody is in on the take, and the cops and criminals are almost interchangeable. Released in late 1973, after months of revelations of Presidential malfeasance in the breaking Watergate scandal, Serpico's true story of bureaucratic depravity touched a cultural nerve, and the film became a hit with both critics and audiences, particularly for Pacino's complex performance as the honest, long-haired whistle-blower. One year after his star-making triumph in The Godfather, Pacino was nominated for an Oscar again, and lost again; Lumet and Pacino would reunite two years later for another true New York story, Dog Day Afternoon.
- Serpico: From Real to Reel
- Inside Serpico
- Serpico: Favorite Moments
- Photot Gallery with commentary by director Sidney Lumet
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SERPICO, SHOULD BE A POLICE STANDARD FOR POLICE MORALS AND ACCOUNTABILITY
A GREAT AMERICAN POLICE OFFICER
Serpico lives on in real life in Europe. This movie is based on a book by Peter Haas and the account is pretty much true to life and not fictionalized. The women in his life and his family are pictured and add realism to the story and also are a sounding board to the frustration that he experienced during these years. Serpico grew as a person and during the course of the film, Al Pacino shows himself to be a brilliant actor. This early film helped set him as a versitile and talented actor. This film was made after "The Godfather."
This movie was not the first or the last about the issue of corruption in police departments, LA Confidential comes to mind, but it is certainly one of the best. Since this film is set in the sixties, it may seem a little dated now. It should however, stand the test of time and does show a great actor as he begins towards his greatness.
Frank Serpico, now 73, is played by a young Al Pacino straight off the first installment of the "Godfather" trilogy. An idealistic young man who expects nothing more than to do what a police officer is actually supposed to do--protect the innocent and fight crime wherever it is found--finds himself in the NYPD of the early to late 1960's. This a time in which the Italian American mafia had grown in power very significantly, before the Joseph Pistones and Henry Hills and Sammy Gravanos of the world appeared. Lumet's skill in filming pre-Giuliani NYC almost reaches the level of Martin Scorsese.
From the first frame of the film one can see what is coming. Serpico's alienation from his lazy, alarmingly serene fellow police officers is at first harmless, but when he realizes the reasons for their serenity (a cop gives him an envelope filled with 300 dollars for no apparent reason) the nightmare begins. Naturally he believes that taking it to an authority figure in the department will start some kind of investigation. He is told (and this is taken directly from the book) that if he decides to make any trouble over it he will be discovered "facedown in the East River" once all the investigations are over. The Commissioner seems almost annoyed that he has to be bothered with any of this. Doesn't Serpico know that the guys take money from mobsters and shake down drug dealers? What planet is he from?
This story is almost biblical in nature and Lumet certainly took pains to make the other cops (with the exception of one or two other honest cops who tried to help him) around Serpico look agents from some Satanic agency a la Miss Baylock in the Omen. Obese, cruel looking, base and violent, his position of honesty and refusal to participate even one inch in any division's dishonesty makes you fear for the guy.
In the tradition of the saints, he remains joyful and full of life despite his untenable situation. Girlfriend after girlfriend come and go, at first enjoying his joie de la vivre and then being overwhelmed by his moods of agitation and fury at the corruption surrounding him. Pacino does all this with his trademark intensity: perhaps the best scene in the film, also taken from the book, is when he humiliates a mobster who he arrests on the street for running numbers and who is a good buddy of all the men he works with.
Running from official to official, he is screwed around with to the point where one can visibly see him losing faith in the system. His best friend, a more formal but equally just cop (Bob Blair played by Tony Roberts in an understated, realistic performance) uses all the connections he has to get Serpico a hearing on police corruption.
It happens, but not before Serpico is set up by a group of his fellow officers and shot in the face.
This is a tale for the ages and one which should not be forgotten. The might of one strong, good man truly cannot be nailed down by a thousand weak corrupt ones. Recommended to all, along with the book of the same title by Peter Maas.