Sandwiched between the releases of 1972’s The Godfather and its sequel in 1974, Al Pacino starred in this police drama, based on the real life of New York cop Frank Serpico.
And even though it was only his fifth major film, he picked up back-to-back Oscar nominations, following on from the previous year’s Supporting Role nod for playing Michael Corleone, with a Leading Role nod for playing the titular character here.
To celebrate its 50th anniversary, the film is getting re-released with the 4K restoration treatment.
Having graduated from the Police Academy, rookie Frank Serpico (Pacino) has dreams of making his way through the force and one day pick up his gold badge for being a detective.
It’s a long road however, made that little bit tougher by being stationed in one of the crime capitals of the world, New York City.
Unfortunately for him, it isn’t long before he comes across some corruption in the force, with colleagues taking payments for various ‘favours’. It’s a part of the job that he didn’t really prepare for, and not one that he wants to participate in, so decides to move on to another precinct.
It’s only then that he realises that the problem of corruption is much deeper and wider than he thought throughout the force, and decides to take a stand. Although a few of his superiors are behind him, Serpico starts to appreciate that he very much stands alone, and with his stance widely known throughout the force, makes him extremely disliked and distrusted amongst his fellow colleagues, which isn’t ideal when you’re on the front line of crime in the city, with no-one watching your back.
Although still at an early stage of his career, Pacino delivers an impressive performance as Frank Serpico. There’s a richness to it, following a young, idealistic cop whose beliefs in the law system are slowly eroded over time.
And of course there must have been a huge appeal playing a real-life person, who took great risks standing up amongst corruption taking place all around him. But the character goes through a number of transitions, mostly with facial hair, that for an actor like Pacino must have also been a massive draw.
It was also an opportunity to highlight the man behind the badge, following his two major relationships whilst in the force, and seeing how his job affected them both.
Pacino was also in safe hands, being directed by Sidney Lumet, who was already a seasoned pro by this point, having helmed a number of features, starring big names such as Henry Fonda, Marlon Brando, Katharine Hepburn, Sean Connery and James Mason.
Shot entirely in NYC, you certainly get a flavour of how the city was in the early seventies, especially where fashion was concerned. Even Serpico himself goes through a few wardrobe changes, with some of the more ethnic looks, rocking some poncho-inspired clothing, which are really rather special.
It was the perfect follow-up to The Godfather, which in many ways was a more ensemble piece, with this being nothing other than a major showcase for Pacino’s talent, from start to finish, and certainly acting as a strong indication of what was to come.
And with this 4K restoration, the film – and Pacino – look as good and fresh as they did on first release despite its age, serving as an impressive time capsule, preserving what is still a fascinating and absorbing tale of police corruption.