Movie Reviews

Movie Review: Serpico – One Officer’s Moral Compass

Written by Peter Maas, Waldo Salt, and Norman Wexler
Directed by Sidney Lumet

Every time there is a scandal involving a police officer, people are shocked.  What they don’t often realize is that corruption among those who are supposed to protect and serve has been happening practically since the force’s inceptions.  This conflict seemed to be especially true in New York City, where people were stunned by cases like that in Howard Beach and Abner Louima.  What most people don’t realize is that incidents had been happening for years and were taken for granted by many.

Based on the real-life of Frank Serpico, a New York City Police Officer who fought corruption for most of his career, the film Serpico is about one man’s fight against the corruption of the New York City Police Department.  Frank Serpico (portrayed by Al Pacino) was an idealistic young officer when he first joined the force.  While he’s out on patrol he learns about the way officers look the other way to infractions when granted favors by storekeepers, as well as the complacency of his fellow officers when fighting crime.

Serpico wants none of that.  He’s an island of morality being swirled by waters of corruption.  Even complaints to his superiors about what he’s seen are treated more as an annoyance than anything else.  Finally, exasperated, he goes to the New York Times, which raises the stakes quite a bit.

Pacino is superb.  This is probably his best role.  There’s little of the Pacino that seems to shout his way through later roles, but more of a deliberate character who demonstrates his frustration in more cognizant ways rather than long, shouted soliloquies.  The way he’s played too makes Serpico the perfect undercover officer, if only he weren’t being blacklisted at every turn.  He’s also believable in a romantic role where his softer side shows a bit.  Even there, though, he seems to have the consummate police officer personality where he seems a bit detached and not quite as passionate as we know Pacino can be.

The supporting cast is a list of actors I kept saying “I know who that is” in addition to other actors who’s star was yet to shine in 1973 and are uncredited here.  We’re talking names like Judd Hirsch and F. Murray Abraham, in addition to credited actors such as John Randolph, M. Emmett Walsh, and Tony Roberts.

The DVD release of Serpico is good.  I would think there would be a lot more information to look back on this with but the featurettes that are here aren’t bad.  There’s no Director’s Commentary on the film itself but with a photo gallery where he comments on the photos.

The film is fantastic.  Pacino was given a Golden Globe for his role here and I don’t think you can call yourself a Pacino fan if you haven’t seen this film.  It’s simply his best and I like it better than any other role I’ve seen him in.  It’s not action-driven with all sorts of car chases and the like, but an excellent character piece that oddly fits in with how history evolved in the years since the film was made.


• Serpico: Reel to Reel
• Inside Serpico
• Serpico: Favorite Moments
• Photo Gallery with Commentary by Director Sidney Lumet
• Theatrical Trailer