Few people have had a stronger start to their career than Al Pacino. His first few films include The Panic In Needle Park, the first two Godfathers, Dog Day Afternoon and Serpico, all of which are classics in their own rights. Now the last of those arrives on Blu-ray for the first time.
Pacino is the title character, Frank Serpico, who’s always wanted to be a New York cop. He gets his chance and ends up being a plainclothes officer who doesn’t quite fit in as he’s far more hippie-ish than his colleagues. He’s also far more honest. Frank soon realises there’s a huge amount of corruption, with many officers involved in a well-organised operation to take under the table payments from local criminals.
Serpico refuses to get involved, which puts him in a dangerous position. The others have a lot to lose if their corruption is revealed, and having a colleague who isn’t implicated could be dangerous. Frank attempts to find a way out, as well as to end the illegality within the department. He soon discovers that those higher up than him aren’t interested in stirring up a potential hornet’s nest, and even the mayor’s office has other priorities. Even when he discovers what’s going on in his department is chicken feed compared to what’s happening in some of the other New York boroughs, no one will act, leaving Frank trapped and always in danger if anyone realises he’d happily bring their entire racketeering operation down.
It’s a great movie, anchored by an incredible performance from Al Pacino. It’s always great to be reminded just what an elemental force he used to be on screen, especially now we’ve become used to Pacino simply moving from one paycheque gig to the next. It’s also an extremely well-made movie. Like The Godfather it sits right on the cusp between classical Hollywood filmmaking and the New Hollywood on the 70s. It manages to combine the best of both, so that even at 41-years-old it feels very modern, yet retains the scope and technical smartness of older movies.
And while films about police corruption are relatively common now, Serpico was one of the first not to just take on the subject, but also to do it with a true story that was still unfolding (the New York Police Department was in the process of sorting out its house when the movie was released). It is a really excellent film and one that’s well worth taking a peek at on Blu-ray.
Thankfully it’s a very good print, with a nice, sharp picture quality, showing off Sidney Lumet’s excellent direction. There’s surprisingly little grain and the colours are handled really well, ensuring this is an excellent HD restoration. There’s also a choice of the original mono track or a well remixed 5.1 option.
Although the features aren’t exceptionally long, what the disc contains is good. ‘Serpico: Real To Reel’ and ‘Inside Serpico’ are about 10 minutes each and include interviews with Lumet and producer Martin Bregman talking about the making of the movie and offering interesting insights into both how it came to exist as well as how it was shot. They’re also on hand to offer their thoughts on their favourite moments from the movie, while the late Lumet provides a commentary on a selection of images from the production.
Overall Verdict: Serpico is one of the 70s best, telling a great story and showing off Al Pacino at his best. It looks excellent in HD, with a really good transfer that’s makes the film look better than its 41-years in the can might suggest.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac