Frank Serpico (Al Pacino) is an idealistic New York City cop who refuses to take bribes, unlike the rest of the force. His actions get Frank shunned by the other officers, and often placed in dangerous situations by his partners. When his superiors ignore Frank’s accusations of corruption, he decides to go public with the allegations. Although this causes the Knapp Commission to investigate his claims, Frank has also placed a target on himself. The film is based on a true story.
I heard a lot about Serpico going into it, it’s a highly praised movie about the real-life story of a police officer who is going up against police corruption. The film is directed by Sidney Lumet and stars Al Pacino in the lead role of Frank Serpico. The movie certainly lived up to the acclaim that its being receiving.
This biopic covers the years of 1960 to 1972 and retraces Frank Serpico’s undercover career as he tries to clear corruption from the police force, while coming up against roadblocks and people who want him out of the way. The script is tight and absorbing, the story is told in a very real way, and it had me engaged throughout. Its actually incredible that its an biopic it doesn’t get bogged down by melodrama, its essentially a character study of a man trying his best to change a system that has no inclination to change. There is a real sense of doom and danger throughout its runtime, even when you know that Serpico is still alive by the end of the movie. His stance against police corruption made him a target for his fellow officers, and you really feel his paranoia and stress along with him. The script remained largely focussed on the real life issues at hand, and a lot of these topics are still relevant all these decades later. Serpico can be a frustrating movie to watch, but definitely in a good way, you get really invested in Serpico’s efforts. The movie can be a little slow at times, but it handles the 130 minute runtime well considering that there are multiple events, storylines and characters it has to cover and follow.
Al Pacino is brilliant in the lead role of Frank Serpico, a good cop caught in a bad system. Despite it being a biopic about him, Serpico not portrayed as a saint or a martyr. He’s shown to be quite flawed, conflicted, and is very compelling to watch. Pacino gives a charismatic and empathetic performance here, and he really conveyed the stress and strain the character is under. His performance also doesn’t feel overplayed for dramatic effect, it feels very real and authentic. The supporting cast all do a good job in assisting Pacino, but make no mistake, he is the star of the show here.
The direction from Sidney Lumet is fantastic as expected. It’s very well shot and edited, and it all feels very real and grounded, doing particularly well at setting itself in 1970s New York. The score also adds to the atmosphere, its quiet and mellow and really fits the movie quite well. I even like how the passage of time is conveyed through Serpico’s hair length.
Serpico is a very well crafted biopic and crime drama. The story of its title character was compelling to watch, Sidney Lumet’s direction is great, and of course Al Pacino gives a phenomenal performance here, some of his very best work. I wouldn’t say it quite measures up to some of Lumet’s other movies like Dog Day Afternoon or 12 Angry Men, but it is still a great movie and one that is worth checking out.