25 April 2005 | dtb
Pacino Shines in Classic Grim & Gritty Crime Biopic
I'd been wanting to see SERPICO for some time; this real-life crime drama based on Peter Maas' nonfiction bestseller about an honest cop fighting corruption in the NYPD was one of the few grim-and-gritty New York crime dramas that my older brother didn't take me to see when I was a kid! :-) (I should explain that my brother, 9 years my senior, used to take me to the kind of movies he wanted to see -- films like TAXI DRIVER, REPORT TO THE COMMISSIONER, etc. Fortunately, I developed a taste for them as well, though our mother didn't think they were really appropriate for a girl as young as I was then. :-) No wonder this film helped young Al Pacino's then-rising star (he was fresh off THE GODFATHER when he began filming SERPICO) to soar to the stratosphere, complete with an Oscar nomination. Pacino's earnest intensity fuses Frank Serpico's disparate qualities into a spellbinding performance. The guy is a bundle of contradictions, the kind of man who could charm you, move you, and drive you crazy at the same time: a nice Catholic boy who can't commit to any of the devoted women in his life; an honest, downright rigid moralist who's also a free spirit known as "Paco" to his friends and lovers; and an undercover cop with detective aspirations whose hippie-like appearance rankled his superiors and fellow officers even as it helped him blend in on assignments. Pacino's riveting performance carries the film, with fine support by John Randolph, Tony Roberts, M. Emmet Walsh, Barbara eda-Young and Cornelia Sharpe, not to mention memorable uncredited turns by F. Murray Abraham, Judd Hirsch, Kenneth McMillan, and Tony LoBianco, among others. Sidney Lumet's taut direction of the script by Waldo Salt and Norman Wexler does Maas' source material proud, as well as taking advantage of evocative NYC locations (just try getting this kind of atmosphere in Canada, I dare you! :-). The sparing use of simple yet haunting music by Mikis Theodorakis sets the tone well. The end result: one of the best films of the 1970s and beyond. Rent the DVD to see some fascinating extras about the making of the film and the filmmakers' experiences with Frank Serpico himself, including interviews with Lumet and producer Martin Bregman (no Pacino, alas).