The first film in Sidney Lumet’s unofficial trilogy about New York City police corruption (followed by Prince of the City and Q&A) recounts the true-life exploits of Frank Serpico, a plainclothes cop whose landmark testimony helped to expose the biggest corruption scandal in NYPD history.
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Lumet grounds the story with so much hard-won local detail—as IMDB notes, this was shot at 104 New York City locations—that the film can be appreciated simply as a documentary of the city at this time. It may lack the complex Brechtian structure of PRINCE or the procedural precision of NIGHT FALLS, but it’s still dyed-in-the-wool Lumet, perceptive and cynical in equal measure.
As far as I'm concerned this is the best performance I've ever seen by Pacino (and I like plenty of his films). Serpico is an incredibly well developed character, he feels very human. Great stuff. Plus, Pacino is a total babe with that beard and that earring.
rewatched. An extraordinary example of what most significant happened in North-American industrial cinema, in the last decade it knew how to approach the human not forgetting the specificity of its language. Lumet was one of its greatest exponents and if he would lose some brilliance from "Daniel" on, most films directed in the 70s made him the filmmaker who best knew how to inhabit a city, New York New York.
It's a masterpiece. Frank Serpico never feels like a fictional character. When you are watching the movie, it's like he is right there with you... Maybe sitting on the couch next to the TV. What a fantastic human being. Pacino's acting is off the roof.
As relevant now as it was in the '70s, the ultimate proof of cinema as the eye of the century. And when that eye comes from humanist and cinematic master Sidney Lumet, the outcome is as brutal as it is though-provoking… what a film… and what a performance by Pacino, my personal favorite of his.
Films about corruption can rile up the viewer even when poorly made. Yet I liked this film, perhaps because I don't think Serpico is played as "a paragon of virtue" as commented below. Frank just wants to be a cop, not fritter away his days navigating the minefield of corruption and convoluted payoff schemes. The simple act of non-participation makes him a pariah; that he cannot just BE is the insidiousness of evil.
Starts like dynamite in its prefix to tragedy, the rest is a scatterbrained, overextended slog. Serpico should not be as long as it is, while with mainly just telling us the potential threats, not showing, the dramatics are tensionless and muted. Smart enough to sully Pacino's straight-laced character with outbursts, his character arc of starting out honest ends honest, making its narrative repetitive and stagnant.
A brilliant essay on idealism and honesty navigating institutional apathy and corruption. With a deft economy of plotting and unobtrusive mise-en-scene Lumet superbly documents a tragic narrative through the wonderfully nuanced performance of Pacino as a cop who's idealism is actually steadfastness not plastic heroics. One wonders (cynically) if 'same old, same old' holds true now? Perhaps there's the tragedy.