Serpico (1973) – In the Face of Corruption

Serpico (1973) is yet another testament to Al Pacino’s acting prowess, with his grounded portrayal of Frank Serpico, an honest cop in a cesspool of corruption. Pacino’s performance ranges from restrained and nuanced to explosive, each emotional beat landing with precision. This was a role that demanded a certain level of vulnerability and moral intensity, and Pacino delivers it with a great sense of composure, with his powerful acting earning him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in 1974.

Serpico (1973) – Paramount Pictures

The film is based on real-life NYPD officer Frank Serpico, and it shines an unflinching spotlight on the rampant corruption within the police departments of crime-ridden 70’s New York. The character of Serpico is one of quiet resistance, a man who refuses to play by the corrupt rules of his peers. But despite the ever-looming threats to his life and career, Serpico stands firm in his moral conviction. 

As much as the film is a reflection of systemic corruption it’s also a deep dive into Serpico’s psyche, an exploration of the courage it takes to defy a rotten system from within. This historical basis lends the film a level  of gravitas that bolsters the narrative’s impact. The real Serpico’s actions lead to the Knapp Commission, a body specifically created to address police corruption, and the film highlighted this escalation as a testament to the scale and severity of the problem at the time.

Serpico (1973) – Paramount Pictures

To an audience used to today’s style and pacing, Serpico might feel a noticeably slower pace which makes it seem more like a product of its time than some other Al Pacino projects of the era. But it still carries that raw, gritty style that was quite prevalent in the ’70s cinema, especially in crime dramas. The pacing did allow for an in-depth look at the complexities of the story and its characters, but some might find it dragging compared to more modern, action-oriented films.

In terms of its place in Pacino’s filmography, though Serpico falls within his Godfather Era, it presents a different style of storytelling than his other work of the time, such as Dog Day Afternoon. In Serpico, the narrative builds steadily, focusing on the systemic corruption Serpico battles, rather than the intense personal drama that drives films like Dog Day Afternoon.

Serpico (1973) – Paramount Pictures

Overall Serpico is a solid film and though it doesn’t have the faster pacing of some modern films or the high-stakes drama of some of Pacino’s other works, it still holds its own. With its compelling portrayal of systemic corruption and a standout performance from Pacino, Serpico remains a noteworthy entry in the history of crime cinema.