23 November 2008 | Lejink
Good cop, bad cops...
Unquestionably one of the major films of the 70's dealing with a big theme (police corruption) and with some major talents at close to the top of their game throughout. Sydney Lumet spares us little in this gritty urban drama using almost fly-on-the-wall documentary technique to involve the viewer in the action and stand us directly alongside Pacino as crusading street-wise cop Frank Serpico. Serpico's naive idealism is at first bruised by what at first seems casual freeloading by almost everyone of his new colleagues on the force but which turns to literally a battering as he comes to appreciate just how endemic the inside corruption actually is. Lumet plants us firmly on location in contemporary downtown NY with its rundown apartment blocks, graffiti-strewn streets and lowlife criminal element (and that's just the police!) As for Serpico, we feel his frustration as he cracks under the pressure, his relationship with his girlfriend poisoned as he fails to make the powers-that-be sit up and address what to all intents and purposes is standard behaviour. It takes a great acting performance to carry the viewer all the way through this lonely journey, even when the character himself becomes at times obnoxious and unfeeling to his (few) supporters; thankfully Pacino gives a performance the real-life Serpico deserved. Only very occasionally lapsing into the "hoo-ha" overacting style that reached its nadir in "Scent Of A Woman", Pacino plays it cool and tight throughout, always wary, always looking over his shoulder, playing it for real. If one is slightly sceptical if not critical of his sometimes ridiculous-looking "Harry Hippy" persona, I think it can be forgiven as being of its time. The ensemble support acting is top-drawer too, everyone is believable as indeed they need to be to make this film work but particular praise should go to Barbara Eda-Young as his put-upon girlfriend and Tony Roberts, free of Woody Allen for once, as his main ally. It's not hard to see the prototypes here for the new generation cutting-egde TV shows which were soon to follow such as Kojak and particularly Hill Street Blues, but that's the least of this film's achievements. In summary then, this excellent film is proof that it's possible for Hollywood to address a potentially unpopular, certainly uncomfortable serious subject, make its point and still entertain.