Serpico graduates from the police academy filled with optimism and pride. He gets assigned to the Bureau of Criminal Investigations where he’s allowed to grow a beard and mustache. Serpico is shocked when he’s offered a bribe. He reports it to Bob Blair, his friend in the department. Blair warns Serpico that if he reports it, he’ll likely be killed by corrupt cops. Serpico holds off but he encounters more corruption: police officers involved in violence, extortion, payoffs. Serpico and Blair report all this to the Mayor’s right-hand man. The Mayor’s office never conducts a real investigation citing political pressure. Frustrated after a year-and-a half of police inaction, Serpico informs Captain Inspector McClain that he is going to outside agencies. Realizing his life is in danger, Serpico visits The New York Times and spills the whole story. During a drug bust, as he feared, Serpico is shot and wounded when his backup fails to act. Serpico recovers. He finally is able to receive satisfaction when he’s invited to testify before the Knapp Commission investigating police corruption. He receives a Medal of Honor but his career as a police officer is over. He moves to Switzerland where he hopes he’ll be happy, but, more importantly, he’ll be safe.
Al Pacino (Frank Serpico) / Tony Roberts (Bob Blair) / Biff McGuire (Captain Inspector McClain)
Why Stream This Film?
- Rotten Tomatoes Score (Critics Consensus): 90%
- Metacritic Score: 87
Academy Awards: Nominated, Best Actor in a Leading Role (Al Pacino); Best Screenplay (Waldo Salt and Norman Wexler)
Golden Globes: Winner, Best Actor (Al Pacino)
Directors Guild of America, USA: Nominated, Outstanding Directorial Achievement (Sidney Lumet)
National Board of Review, USA: Winner, Best Actor (Al Pacino)
Writers Guild of America: Winner, Best Drama Adapted from Another Medium (Waldo Salt and Norman Wexler)
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Al Pacino’s performance is outstanding. Sidney Lumet’s direction adeptly combines gritty action and thought-provoking comment. Pacino dominates the entire film. His inner torment is vividly detailed.
In the end what really matters is the emotional and psychological trajectory of the title characters. Serpico’s tragedy lies not only on the impossible situation that surrounds him, but in the irreparable destruction of his dream of being an efficient cop in an incorruptible department. So, when Serpico finally lets out a small cry, we realize that, in one way or another, his battle is already lost. We’re sorry not only because of his disappointment, but also because of the cynicism in which he (and, even now, all of us) lives.
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