After watching Scarface I really needed to be reminded of the great actor that Al Pacino once was. So when I spied Serpico on Netflix I figured that I would see whether my earlier thoughts about the watershed in his style of acting was true. It is.
If you follow the brief synopsis of Serpico you would be forgiven for expecting this film to be just another cop drama about a good cop trying to root out corruption. However, that doesn’t take into account that this is a true story and is not a feel good battle for justice kind of film.
No, his battle to expose the sheer level of corruption within the NYPD is frustrating. Sure, he gets a win at the end, but it is a pyrrhic one. He’s shot in the face, which leaves him in chronic pain and without hearing in one ear. He’s forced to resign from the police as no one on the force really wants to work with him… in fact most want him dead.
Over the course of the film you see Serpico either sacrifice or just lose everything that means anything to him. The women he loves leave him, the career he always dreamed of is over and he ultimately leaves the country in order to recover from his injuries.
In the hands of a lesser director than 12 Angry Men‘s Sidney Lumet Serpico really could have gone overboard in making the lead character holier than thou. The fact is, Frank Serpico is a very good cop and has a well calibrated moral compass, but he has his flaws. I know he is based on a real person, but that doesn’t necessary have a bearing on how realistic a portrayal feels.
This brings me back to Al Pacino. He is fantastic in this film and it makes me want to see his remaining films on the 1001 list (Heat and Glengarry Glen Ross). As for Sidney Lumet, this is the final one of his four entries on the 1001 list. As much as I liked Serpico I would probably have to rank it below the other three (Network, 12 Angry Men and Dog Day Afternoon). Still a great film though!