Serpico (1973) 4.36/5 (2)


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Rating: The Good – 85.4
Genre: Crime
Duration: 130 mins
Director: Sidney Lumet
Stars: Al Pacino, John Randolph, Jack Kehoe

There are many great things that can be said about this film but most important is that Al Pacino’s portrayal of Frank Serpico, a real life NYPD police officer who exposed the endemic corruption in his department, is one of the truly brilliant cinematic turns. Few actors can say so much with their eyes as Pacino can and as the film opens we zone right in on them. From that point on, we belong to Pacino and to almost an equal extent his greatest collaborator, the legendary Sidney Lumet whose iron hand in a velvet glove unerringly carries the slow burning story through to its 130th minute.

Serpico’s tale is an extraordinary one even in these more cynical times. That such a prestigious and massive police department could be running such systematic rackets was scarcely believable and that Serpico continually put himself on the line by refusing to take any money was just as movie-worthy. In retrospect, it seems as if nobody else could’ve conveyed the proper depths to this man as Pacino did. As he did in The Godfather, he shows us how an innocent and somewhat naive young man can be turned into a harshly cynical individual through circumstance. Perhaps his most significant achievement is how he portrayed the increasing fear that Serpico was living with from day to day and the eroding effect that had on not just the detective’s personality but his spirit. It’s an intuitive but awesomely contemplative piece of acting from one cinema’s greatest ever performers and it shows in depth the subtle power that he yielded in his heyday. Ever confident in Pacino’s ability to hold court, Lumet raises the stakes by populating the supporting cast with some real talent with John Randolph, Tony Roberts, and Jack Kehoe contributing strongly.

Serpico is one of those 70’s crime classics that screams pedigree. Like many of those classics, it captures the feelings and tones of the time and place in which it is set wonderfully. Lumet’s ability to get the the heart of his environment is at its most finely honed here and of all his films, Serpico is probably his most starkly beautiful. But within that, there’s everything else you could want from a crime classic too. There’s gritty action, there’s full-tilt drama, and there’s a compelling tension held throughout. And to put a real crown on things, there’s also Mikis Theodorakis’ heart-rendering score which on its own seems to tell the magnificent but lonely story of one brave man against the odds.

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