Al Pacino started his career with The Godfather, but Serpico went a long way to introducing filmgoers to the raw talent he still possesses. Based on the true story of an officer’s lone fight against corruption in the New York City PD, Serpico is gritty and almost documentary-like in style. Sydney Lumet’s stylized direction would create a template that countless future cop films continue to emulate. A credit to Lumet’s ability to spot talent rests in the fact that this was considered largely a cast of unknowns. Many of the players went on to become household names: Judd Hirsch, Emmett Walsh, F. Murray Abraham, not to mention Pacino himself.
Frank Serpico is a young police officer who leaves the academy with a lot of idealism and expectations. It doesn’t take long before he is forced to confront a culture of corruption leading all the way to the department’s top brass. Serpico’s relentless attempt to uncover this corruption leads to the famous Knapp Commission investigations.
The audio is a relatively strong 5.1 Digital Surround track. Considering the film’s early 70’s origin, it should not be surprising that the use of surrounds is limited to subtle nuances. What is surprising is the crispness of the sound. The all-important dialogue is always perfectly centered and easy to understand. Extreme highs and lows are understandably a little flat. The intermittent score has its moments. Overall a nice fit for this film.
Serpico is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1. There is a lot of grain present throughout the film. This is not necessarily a bad thing as it effectively captures the seedy atmosphere of the New York locations that served as the film’s backdrop. There are a few specks and film artifacts. Colors are purposefully drab and there is little to find in the film that is bright or cheerful. Once again these should not be considered defects; rather they are effective elements of atmosphere. For the digital filming fans out there, this is the kind of filmmaking that is not possible in a digital source. The true indicator of the film’s transfer is that the wonderful set detail Lumet is renowned for is faithfully reproduced here.
“Serpico: Real To Reel”, “Inside Serpico”, and “Favorite Moments” are short similar features that are mostly interview clips with Sydney Lumet and producer Martin Bergman. A trailer and photo gallery round out a thin collection of features.
If you enjoy character studies, then few actors can carry one as well as Al Pacino and few films depict a character study better than Serpico. It had been years since I last saw this film. It was a true joy to watch this younger version of Al Pacino act. Pacino’s talent may have been unknown in 1973 when Serpico was released but there is no doubt that every time he plays a scene “20 more guys know about it”.