To celebrate his 76th birthday, I’ve reviewed Serpico – one of my favourite films of his, although I find it very hard to choose!
Frank Serpico (Al Pacino) joined the NYPD a fresh-faced beat cop straight out of the academy. He never really liked the way things worked whilst he was out on the streets and so asked to be transferred to a department that working in identifying criminals. When it turns out Frank’s boss doesn’t like him much, he asks again to be moved elsewhere. Frank soon finds himself to be working undercover, taking down some very unsuspecting criminals, however he discovers that some of his colleagues are struggling to stay on the right side of the law themselves. What’s worse is the fact that Frank is also expected to join in on the corruption that has riddled the force for so long, but Frank is a man of integrity and refuses to take the bribes. He goes to higher powers, wanting to expose the situation but knows that he’s a dead man walking if he gets found out. However, as clever and as careful as he is, someone sees Frank for what he really is – an honest man – and his life is placed in jeopardy at the hands of his colleagues.
I’m not going to lie, I’ve fallen slightly in love with Al Pacino and his work over the last year, so it was only a matter of time before I got my hands on Serpico. I really enjoyed this one, and apparently good ol’ Al did as well. He has said many a time that he loved playing Frank Serpico as he was a real person and he could embody him. Serpico is a wonderful character study, plus it has quite a statement to make about the way the government forces work, despite what they may want us to think.
Obviously the whole reason Serpico is such an awe-inspiring film is solely thanks to Pacino’s powerhouse performance as Frank himself. After watching this, I read somewhere that The Godfather made Pacino a star, but Serpico made sure he stayed one. Well, I can’t argue with that. He is quite simply astonishing, although I’ve come to expect nothing less from him. You could really understand the way that Frank must have felt, and you couldn’t help but admire the courage the man showed despite the tight corner he was in. There was, of course, that part of the performance where Pacino just suddenly flew off the handle – the thing that drew my attention to him when watching him as Michael Corleone; the unpredictability that meant no other characters or the audience could ever feel too comfortable in his presence. In everything I’ve seen him in, that wildness has appeared, and I think that is what I love most about his work.
The story follows Frank from when he first joins the police force up until he finally gets the court case he pushed so hard for and nearly died fighting for. It is a very thought-provoking chain of real events that questions the ethics behind law enforcement. Yes, this was from a long time ago, but it is still an issue that I don’t think has been fully dealt with anywhere.
Now, it was always a dead certainty that I was going to say that Serpico is a fantastic film due to the fact that Pacino is in it. After watching it a couple or three times, I strongly believe it is a must-see due to the heavy but very real issues it deals with, and the light in which it portrays government institutions.