There are a good number of people who grew up wanting to be police officers. Most of them probably had idealistic views on what the job was about and they wanted to do the right things by helping others and saving lives. Frank Serpico became a cop and was probably one of those kids who had that same outlook when it came to the virtues of law enforcement officers and what they did while protecting their fellow civilians. That might have been what he thought, but based on the film about his life, that doesn't appear to be how it all unfolded.
When Frank Serpico (Al Pacino) joins the New York Police Department back in the 1959, he had the desire to work hard, stop crime and be an upstanding police officer. Though admirable in the eyes of many others in life, that mentality causes issues with some of the other boys in blue and they take umbrage to his style of police work and what he's trying to do. Frank decides to fight through the negativity and stand up to the corruption that surrounds him on a daily basis. By doing so, not only is he risking being alienated within the force, but he's also risking his life.
Serpico is not only about Frank's experiences with the force, in the early going it also offers insight to his personal life and how some people belonging to the crowd that he ran with took to him. Based on his occupation, some of the people that he ran into trusted him while others did not. That's a natural reaction to expect for cops in some instances, but I'd imagine that it would be even more common with the crowd that he ran with during his off duty hours.
After the viewer get acquainted with him and his friends, the film shifts more and more towards his work as a plain clothed policeman. This segment of the movie contains the meat of the story and is the most important part of the movie. It's here that we see his interactions with some of his fellow police officers who don't like the fact that he appears to be clean and refuses to change in order to accommodate them. Because of the reputation that he's developed, Serpico finds himself stuck in a dangerous game where his values are being tested and his loyalty is continuously questioned.
The director and the actors asked to portray this story on-screen handle themselves accordingly and that's especially true for Al Pacino as gives a passionate performance. However, the primary reason for the success of Serpico as a film is due to the actual story behind it all that's on display. With this being true, the film gets better as it continues to dive deeper into all that is taking place and everything becomes more dramatic and dangerous in the life of Serpico once it all begins to escalate until it ultimately reaches it climax.
If I'm going to point out any negatives in the movie, I'll look at the fact that they didn't illustrate the growth of Serpico as much as I would have liked. It's not a big deal overall, but I would have wanted them to show more about how he became the hippie type of guy that he eventually became. By my estimation, the film would have been more well-rounded and it simply would have made it better. Other than that, there isn't much to complain about.
I knew of Frank Serpico and his story before I saw this movie, so there wasn't that much that I didn't know about beforehand. Although that's true, I still wanted to see the film and it was as good as I hoped it would be. The level of stress for a cop must be tough, but I'd imagine it would be even worse when you might feel that you're on your own while you're in a corrupt system. Serpico and anyone else who stands up during trying times like that should be commended and remembered for their bravery and heart.
Director: Sidney Lumet
M. Emmet Walsh
Film Length: 130 minutes
Release Date: December 5, 1973
Distributor: Paramount Pictures