Serpico (1973)

Once again, I must hang my head in shame. All these years as a budding film enthusiast, this Al Pacino ‘classic’ just kept slipping me by. But alas…no longer. The gripping story of honest cop Serpico has now been witnessed. There is a reason that this flick is considered (by many) to be a classic and most of that reason is Al Pacino himself. He does turn in a helluva an impassioned performance. For anyone out there who doesn’t know, Serpico is the true story of Patrolman Frank Serpico, as he battles corruption on the force and then in the halls of bureaucracy and the downward spiral that his personal life takes as a result of this noble crusade; culminating with a messy bullet in the face. I enjoyed Serpico, probably more for its place in cinematic history than for the film itself. It’s not perfect. The acting, in my opinion, felt somewhat uneven. At times, it was terrific and engrossing while other moments were pure, soap-opera level cheese. This is pure 70s Pacino, with the man doing his best to either softly mumble his way awkwardly through a scene or to just go bat-shit crazy as he unleashes his characters pent up fury and frustration. None of that is an insult as it’s alway just so damn interesting to watch. One thing that effectively humanized and flawed the character were his doomed relationships with women. In the film, we see two seperate (and different) ladies in Serpicos life. Neither of them last. One of them is more aloof about the relationship than he is and merely drifts off; leaving him somewhat lost. The other falls hard but then suffers reams of emotional abuse as ‘the case’ begins to take its toll on Serpicos psyche. Hell, when she finally hit the bricks, I was all like ‘You go, girl!’. On a technical level, there is very fine work on display from director Sidney Lumet. Some very impressive long takes and minimal use of intrusive musical score stand out, as well as the way that the dirty streets, alleyways and rooftops of New York are almost made to become characters themselves. There’s also some decent hand-held material, which lent a certain immediacy to some of the more intense scenes. Something that I found unintentionally hilarious were the goofy-as-hell hippie type outfits that Serpico opts for, as his undercover character ‘Paco’. The funny bucket hats, floppy felt fedoras, leather vests and the purse. Yes…the friggin purse. Serpico carried what is undeniably a purse. Say it with me, kids: A…PURSE. No wonder his cop buddies took issue with him! Then there is the varying facial hair styles ranging from clean cut, to horrifying 70s porno mustache to the full-on Charles Manson beard look. Combine those with his huge, street-adopted pet Sheep Dog and the man is virtually a cartoon. But this film sure isn’t. It’s a well executed cop drama about a real-life situation that needed to be brought to the fore-front at a time when police corruption was nearing an all-time high. While still impressive, it’s just not as perfect a film as it could’ve been.

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