Good Cop / Bad Cops
Watching "Serpico" now makes you realise two things; firstly is that whilst Al Pacino is still a top actor he often resorts to trademarks, the crazy stare and the shouting roar and secondly Pacino of the 70s wasn't a top actor but a great actor who played and created characters. Aside from that "Serpico" is also an interesting movie which is strangely simple with its dramatization of the true story of Frank Serpico who refused to become a bent cop like all those around him and quite literally put himself in the firing line for doing so. It is a simple but very powerful drama with an escalating level of tension which has you gripped right up until the credits role.
So as already mentioned "Serpico" is based on the true story of Frank Serpico and starts with what was a famous shooting which saw him end up in hospital on the critical list after being shot in the face during a drugs bust. What follows on from that initially feels like we are going to have a series of flashbacks as we see Serpico drifting in and out of consciousness whilst in the hospital and we see him graduate from police academy. But in truth whilst it starts that way what we get is one long flashback which takes us from his graduation to what happened after the shooting.
Now I am not going to go in to a lot of detail because "Serpico" is a simple movie but to sum it up we have Frank as an honest cop who wants to uphold the law but finding where ever he goes corruption within the force and an attitude of not caring. It leads Frank to make various enemies especially when he refused to take money from bent cops being paid off by criminals and on tiring of the corruption makes him more enemies as it becomes known he has been speaking to people high in command despite their reluctance to react. All of which comes to a boiling point when Frank has enough of no one doing anything and goes to the press over the police corruption.
The thing about "Serpico" it is a movie which constantly dials up the tension and drama as we go from Frank discovering that detectives take the collars which cops bring in right up to the point where he gets assigned to Narcotics and knows he needs to watch his back. You can sense that with each transfer, with each plea to a superior to act things get increasingly uncomfortable as the only clean cop in a dirty force with Frank knowing it will only be a matter of time before someone tries to kill him. But we also see how this affects him personally as a relationship fails because of the pressure he is under and that things get so bad that he can barely trust anyone.
Now whilst director Sidney Lumet has done a terrific job of making "Serpico" what I really love about the movie is Pacino's performance and the fact he goes from looking clean cut to looking not too dissimilar to Cat Stevens. It is such a controlled performance from Pacino that whilst there are scenes which see him let rip, get angry and shout it never dominates his character but instead we get to understand Serpico's integrity, his good cop just wanting to do things right. As such for me "Serpico" is one of Pacino's greatest performances because he keeps things controlled rather than going too intense.
What this all boils down to is that "Serpico" is a great movie, a simple storyline beautifully directed so that it constantly lifts the drama and tension. Plus it features Pacino at his best, playing a character rather than relying on traits which have dominated some of his more recent movies.