Al Pacino, in the 1970s, did what few actors have ever done; received four consecutive Oscar nominations, four years in a row. Albeit, the first was for Supporting Actor for The Godfather, but the next three were all in the Lead Actor category. The first of them is for Serpico, the true story of NYPD cop Frank Serpico, who ended up becoming a whistleblower for the rampant corruption taking place in the entire New York Department. It’s a subject matter and source material ripe for a film adaptation, and with Sidney Lumet at the helm, you can bet that it’ll be well utilized, and it sure is.
Frank Serpico graduates from the police academy into uniformed duty, from which he quickly transfers to the plain-clothes division in a bid for future detective work. It’s when he transfers into a second division that he begins to catch wind and be a privy to the underground market of bribery and corruption that is a part of the force, seemingly no matter what division he transfers to. It’s his decision to remain steadfast against pocketing money and participating in what’s going on that swiftly puts a target on his back, especially when he makes the decision to report on what is going on first to his superiors, then to outside agencies, then to the media, hoping for someone, anyone, to get a full investigation going into NYC police corruption. The thing I liked most about Serpico (the film) was that the film itself showed exactly why we need people like Serpico (the person); if it weren’t for people like him, this sort of thing would likely still be going on today, and it would be so integrated and far-reaching that it would be virtually impossible to uproot the whole thing, since everyone who would have the power to do so would be in on it. Really, it’s people like Serpico that show us the real power and effectiveness of the media as a tool for keeping the powers that be in check, and it’s films like this that show us, the public, the lengths that people like Serpico have gone through to do what they believe is the right thing. Alright, enough half-political/sociological banter; the film itself. The film gets by mostly thanks to two things; a really solid script that knows how to handle it’s material and make it engaging (if it weren’t enough already), and Al Pacino’s equally solid performance. The other thing I noticed was that there was an almost complete lack of music in this one, which I took as a service to the film’s attempts at keeping everything in the realm of reality; aside from the closing credits, I believe every bit of music we do hear in the film is practical, such as from radios or record players. Normally, a film without a good score can barely stand on its own two feet, but Serpico manages with aplomb.
Once again, I found an unassuming little film with a solid structure and barely any frills on it that ends up being more than the sum of its parts, and once again, I ended up liking it. Also again, if I were pressed into trying to explain what it was about it that I liked, or that I found worth watching, I’d be a little stymied, since there’s barely anything to talk about with this one. It’s just a damn good film, and with the social relevance it has no matter what time period or country you see it in, I can pretty easily see how this has stayed on the must see list. There’s a small part of me that still ultimately sees this as another checkbox ticked off, and I doubt that, after about a week or so, I’ll have any real memory of the film, but if I really need to remember it, I’ll gladly watch it again. It’s worth the investment.
Arbitrary Rating: 8/10