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An engrossing, immediate depiction of early '70s New York, Serpico is elevated by Al Pacino's ferocious performance. Read critic reviews

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Movie Info

Frank Serpico (Al Pacino) is an idealistic New York City cop who refuses to take bribes, unlike the rest of the force. His actions get Frank shunned by the other officers, and often placed in dangerous situations by his partners. When his superiors ignore Frank's accusations of corruption, he decides to go public with the allegations. Although this causes the Knapp Commission to investigate his claims, Frank has also placed a target on himself. The film is based on a true story.

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Critic Reviews for Serpico

All Critics (41) | Top Critics (8) | Fresh (37) | Rotten (4)

  • Wonderful potential, and wasted. Serpico has some brutal surface flash and an acetylene performance by Al Pacino in the title role, but its energy is used to dodge all the questions it should have raised and answered.

    July 26, 2011 | Full Review…
  • Al Pacino delivers a powerful performance in this compelling biopic of a cop and a city's police force.

    April 9, 2008 | Rating: 5/5 | Full Review…
  • Sidney Lumet's direction adeptly combines gritty action and thought-provoking comment.

    April 9, 2008 | Full Review…
  • A virtuoso performance by Al Pacino and some expert location work by Sidney Lumet add up to a tour de force genre piece that transcends the supercop conventions to create a moving, engrossing portrait of Frank Serpico.

    March 1, 2007 | Full Review…
  • Another problem, these days, is Pacino's characterisation; he seems at times more like a misplaced hippy than a plainclothes cop.

    June 24, 2006 | Full Review…
  • Lumet's biopic of Frank Serpico, the virtuous cop who exposed a network of graft in the NYPD, feels depressingly relevant.

    August 3, 2004 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for Serpico

  • Dec 15, 2020
    Serpico has been on my to watch list since forever and I finally made the time to check it out. Al Pacino was at the height of his career when he was teaming with Lumet and Serpico is probably one of my favourite for Pacino. The film rests on his shoulders and he has to carry most of the movie without any heavy support. Serpico mightn't be the grand film about corrupt policemen but it's a tense couple of hours and Lumet ensures there's no shortage of character development. I'm a little annoyed I never watched more of Sidney Lumet growing up as he is kind of the guy behind these police corruption drama films. I can't recommend this film enough. 13/12/2020
    Brendan O Super Reviewer
  • Jun 16, 2014
    With their second collaboration in 1974, Al Pacino and Sidney Lumet delivered one of the very best films of the decade with "Dog Day Afternoon". It was a taut and captivating true-life story of a bank robber that gets way in over his head. Two years previously, though, they worked on another true-life story from the opposite side of the law. This time it was NYPD officer Frank Serpico and how he got way in over his head with police corruption rife all around him. 1960's New York: Frank Serpico is a cop who refuses to extort the local criminals and take pay-off's even though all his colleagues seem to be in on it. As a result, nobody trusts or wants to work him and Serpico begins to realise that his life is in danger by the very people who have sworn to protect and serve. Time and time again, he refuses to go on the take, hoping that an investigation will be launched into the conduct of his numerous partners but knows that it will take his own involvement or testimony to make a difference. After a frantic opening where Serpico is rushed to hospital bleeding from a gunshot wound to the face, Lumet slows events down and goes back to where it all began. We witness his recruitment to the police department and his ideological approach to the job. It's slow to start and spends a bit too much time on Sepico's home life when really all you want is for the police corruption angle to move along. That being said, when things do start to get going, the film improves as it progresses. Revered as one the finest films of the 70's and for it's time, that's completely understandable as police corruption drama's were not as commonplace as they are now. However, it now looks dated and time hasn't been all that kind to it. Arthur J. Ornitz's cinematography is observant enough to utilise the New York locations to excellent effect which lend the film a suitably grim and realistic tone but some scenes are far too dark to fully make out what's actually going on. For the most part, Lumet's handling of the material is strong and he's in no rush to relate this biopic. Although this is commendable, his pacing is slightly misjudged leaving you with feelings of lethargy and an overlong running time. Added to which - with the obvious exception of Serpico - there really isn't any other character that gets attention in Waldo Salt and Norman Wexler's screenplay. The support are all two-dimensional and some of the acting on show is very questionable, indeed. It even wastes the talents of great character actors like M. Emmett Walsh and F. Murray Abraham in thankless bit-parts. The most glaring flaw, however, is Greek composer Mikis Theodakaris' ridiculously overused and misplaced music score. It's feels random, tonally different and bears heavily on particular scenes that it brings nothing of value to. It even plays over the dialogue which can be difficult to hear and results in the film feeling cheap. Now, this sounds like a lot of flaws for a film that's held in such high regard but they do happen to be there and wouldn't be looked upon kindly by a contemporary audience. That aside, though, there is still much to recommend the film. It builds tension with ease and has numerous standalone scenes that are of a very high quality and the denouement is, simply, a work of genius. Ultimately, it's a vehicle for Pacino and, unsurprisingly, he delivers an explosive central performance. It's one of his most iconic and his commitment to the role actually raises the film beyond a particular standard. "The Godfather" may have been the film that made his name but it's his performance here that cemented it. He not only echoes the reservation of Michael Corleone but also displays moments of frustration and rage that allow him to grandstand in the way that only Al knows how. Much like the refusal of Frank Serpico to go on the take, I refuse to fall into line with the particular posse of critics who see no fault in this film. I honestly thought I'd be handing out top marks for a film I was very fond of in the past but I wouldn't be being honest if I did. That's not to say that it doesn't have quality in there too, though. Age may not have been kind but you can't put a time on a top class performance. Mark Walker
    Mark W Super Reviewer
  • Mar 14, 2014
    Serpico adds to the legend of Al Pacino by giving him a meaty early role as the offbeat cop who exposes corruption within the system. It is a wonderful character and a wonderful portrayal.
    John B Super Reviewer
  • Nov 27, 2012
    Sidney Lumet's Serpico is a brilliant piece of drama that has a stellar cast and terrific story. This is among the greatest dramas ever put on celluloid. Lumet understands how to craft a solid picture, and he takes his time to craft a film that tells an engaging story with phenomenal characters. This film tells the real life story of Frank Serpico, an honest cop working in a corrupt environment. Brilliantly acted by Al Pacino, the lead character is a powerful tour de force performance that ranks among the actors greatest works. This is a brilliant film that delivers a great story, and you sympathize with the lead character because Al Pacino has so much screen presence that you simply cannot tear yourself away from the screen. Very well crafted, directed and paced, Serpico is yet another flawless masterwork by director Sidney Lumet who can always craft a thought provoking work of cinema. I thoroughly enjoyed the film, and I was mesmerized by Pacino who is absolutely terrific here. This was made during his peak years, and he was on a roll with making great films. This is a fine crime drama that should appeal to viewers of the genre, and if you love true life picture, then Serpico is definitely not a film to pass up on. Lumet's flair for what makes an effective story is apparent throughout, and he is able to get the most out of his actors because he always seems to have great stories to tell, and this is such an example of a film that needed to be told because true stories are simply compelling and engaging and Lumet definitely captures the feel and essence of its key elements. Frank Serpico's determination of uncovering the corruption in the NYPD is terrific and his inner conflict and subsequent struggle to do what's right is what keeps you hooked from start to finish. An unforgettable drama definitely worth your time.
    Alex r Super Reviewer

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