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.