Film Review: Serpico (1973)

Release Date: December 5th, 1973 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Sidney Lumet
Written by: Waldo Salt, Norman Wexler
Based on: Serpico by Peter Maas
Music by: Mikis Theodorakis
Cast: Al Pacino, John Randolph, Jack Kehoe, Biff McGuire, Barabara Eda-Young, Cornelia Sharpe, Edward Grover, Tony Roberts, Allan Rich, Albert Henderson, Joseph Bova, Woodie King Jr., James Tolkan, Bernard Barrow, Nathan George, M. Emmet Walsh, Ted Beniades, F. Murray Abraham (uncredited), Judd Hirsch (uncredited)

Artists Entertainment Complex, Produzioni De Laurentiis International Manufacturing Company, 130 Minutes

Review:

“The reality is that we do not wash our own laundry – it just gets dirtier.” – Frank Serpico

The early ’70s were a hell of a great time for the still young Al Pacino’s career. Not only did he star in two near perfect Godfather movies but he also starred in two great films by legendary director Sidney Lumet: Dog Day Afternoon and this, Serpico.

Out of the four films, this may be my least favorite but man, it’s still incredible, holds up exceptionally well and boasts one of Pacino’s greatest performances, as he plays former detective Frank Serpico, who was instrumental in shedding light on the corrupt activities of the New York Police Department of his time.

Pacino carries this film from scene-to-scene but honestly, I don’t think that was a difficult thing for him to do, even in the early ’70s. The rest of the cast isn’t full of well-known actors like his other films from the era, so he really steps his game up here. That’s not to say that the actors in this aren’t talented, they certainly are, you just can’t compare them to the large cast in the Godfather films or the other great character actors that were weaved into Dog Day Afternoon.

The greatness of this motion picture has just as much to do with the direction of Lumet, as it does the acting of Pacino, though. The two men were one hell of a team when they were together on the same project.

Lumet proves, once again, that he is a master craftsman behind the camera. This gritty, too real film has stupendous cinematography from the lighting, shot framing and overall visual tone. This is generally a dark movie but it has a lot of texture to it and life within every frame. It’s brooding and haunting yet it has energy and passion. It’s almost like a cinematic yin and yang, executed to perfection.

Additionally, Lumet just knows how to pull the best performances out of his actors. I’m not sure how involved he was in casting the whole film but I’d have to guess that he was either very involved or used someone that he trusted with his life. Everyone in this is perfect for their role, regardless of its size.

Ultimately, this is a damn good movie in just about every regard. While I found the pacing a little slow in a few parts, everything still felt necessary to the story and the end result is impressive.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: other crime films of the 1970s, especially those starring Al Pacino.