Critics Consensus

Serpico is an engrossing, immediate depiction of 1973 New York and includes a turn by a young Pacino that's both ferocious and career changing.



Total Count: 39


Audience Score

User Ratings: 53,646
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Movie Info

This is the real-life story of a New York cop who takes on corruption in the police department.


Al Pacino
as Frank Serpico
John Randolph
as Chief Sidney Green
Jack Kehoe
as Tom Keough
Tony Roberts
as Bob Blair
Biff McGuire
as Capt. McClain
John Medici
as Pasquale Serpico
Allan Rich
as D.A. Tauber
Norman Ornellas
as Don Rubello
Ed Grover
as Lombardo
Edward Grover
as Lombardo
Joe Bova
as Potts
Gene Gross
as Capt. Tolkin
John Stewart
as Waterman
James Tolkan
as Steiger
Sal Carollo
as Mr. Serpico
Mildred Clinton
as Mrs. Serpico
Nathan George
as Detective Smith
Gus Fleming
as Dr. Metz
John McQuade
as Kellogg
John Lehne
as Gilbert
M. Emmet Walsh
as Gallagher
Scott Franklin
as Black Prisoner
Don Billett
as Detective Threatening Serpico
F. Murray Abraham
as Detective Partner
Charles White
as Commissioner Delaney
Kenneth McMillan
as Short Order Man
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News & Interviews for Serpico

Critic Reviews for Serpico

All Critics (39) | Top Critics (6) | Fresh (35) | 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.

    Jul 26, 2011 | Full Review…
  • Sidney Lumet's direction adeptly combines gritty action and thought-provoking comment.

    Apr 9, 2008 | Full Review…

    Variety Staff

    Top Critic
  • 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.

    Mar 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.

    Jun 24, 2006 | Full Review…

    Geoff Andrew

    Time Out
    Top Critic
  • Lumet's biopic of Frank Serpico, the virtuous cop who exposed a network of graft in the NYPD, feels depressingly relevant.

    Aug 3, 2004 | Full Review…
  • A remarkable record of one man's rebellion against the sort of sleaziness and second-rateness that has affected so much American life, from the ingredients of its hamburgers to the ethics of its civil servants and politicians.

    May 20, 2003 | Rating: 4/5

Audience Reviews for Serpico

  • 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
  • Jul 14, 2012
    Wait, a crime film directed by Sidney Lumet and starring Al Pacino as a guy named Frank? Is anyone else noticing that Al Pacino seems to really dig the name Frank? Seriously, I knew that it wasn't "that" kind of a romantic comedy (You get what I'm saying, fans of "I Love You Phillip Morris"?), but I was having a hard time figuring out whether Pacino was Frankie or Johnny (Johnny could be the girl's name, you never know how cruel someone's parents can be), yet with this film, there was only one lead, his name was Frank, and you better believe that it was the first of... well, only three Franks (I like to exaggerate when people do something more than once or twice) to be played by Pacino, because this film is nothing if it's not without aspects that you remember from other Pacino films, and certainly other Sidney Lumet films. Well, to be fair, this crime film is a little bit different from Lumet's usual work, because this time, it's about the cops... conducting criminal activity. Still, outside of this film, about the furthest Lumet went from the crime genre was "The Wiz", and even then, I can think of plenty of people who would consider "The Wiz" some kind of crime, and plus, it was the usual 130-something-minute runtime that Lumet seemed to loved hitting. I don't know how you make a Motwon twist on "The Wizard of Oz" over 130 minutes, but boy, did Lumet go for it, because he seemed to love a good challenge, and the 130-something-minute region on a film runtime clock seems to be one of those in-between regions that's hard to hit. I know that sounds weird, but hey, just look at this film, because it seemed to be having trouble making it between 120 and 140, for although it's quite the decent watch, it goes held back quite a bit by its needing some serious tightening. The film has plenty of looseness, going padded out by overdrawn material or material that is simply expendable, with even rather large chunks of the film warranting complete omission. The film will hit the occasional subplot or simply a lengthy point of nothing that's really relevant to the central story, and segments like those slow plot down, sometimes even to a halt, as they have little, if any considerable value in the film and simply leave the final product to suffer from uneven focus. All of this excessive padding certainly exacerbates the film's fair bit of slowness. With the help of the aforementioned dragging, the film often finds itself falling limp, with quiet dryness or nothingness also really slowing, if not all-out dulling things down, perhaps even more, as the dryer spots in the film will even work their way into the more relatively tight and focused segments, and after a while, for a lengthy lapse of time within this film, you lose a bit of engagement value and investment. Sure, the larger chunks of the film that actually play up the central focus pull you back in, yet they still go kept from really hitting all that deep all that often, and not just because the film is otherwise quite messy, but because there are plenty of dramatic touches whose effectiveness goes diluted by a bit of manipulativeness that will sometimes descend as low as overwhelming sentimentality. The film has its high points, but for far too long, it is borderline aimless, yet quite decidedly consistent in its slowness, and by the time things really do pick up, the film has lost so much steam that the kick of the thrills go pulled back to the point of being rendered incapable of raising the final product past underwhelming. Still, make no mistake, this film has high points, and just enough for it to stand as generally worth your time, while certain consistent aspects keep you engaged throughout, or at least your eyes engaged. Arthur J. Ornitz's isn't used to the fullest terribly often, and sometimes, things are just too blasted dark, yet regardless of these factors against the photography, the film is consistently rather handsome in an admittedly dated fashion, but one that still works a fair bit, both as something pretty to look at and as a supplement to the film's tone. Again, the film will get to be too blasted dark for its own good, but more often than not, when the photography turns dark, the film's tone turns dark with it and recieves an extra kick of effectiveness through the cinematography's grit, which really captures the harsh griminess of the situation, and certainly more than Waldo Salt's and Norman Wexler's actually kind of cruddy score does. Still, it's not just Ornitz's photography direction that gives the periodic grit some life, as it's Sidney Lumet general film direction that empowers this film's intrigue... as much as it cripples it. As I said, for most of the film, nothing happens and Sidney Lumet's limp storytelling doesn't help in the least, yet he does give the film a certain consistent charm to keep you going until the film comes to its higher moments, at which point, Lumet wakes up and delivers on engrossing intrigue, if not a bit of genuine tension at points, and it all comes down to dramatic depths that may go hurt Lumet's fairly intense manipulativeness, yet still pull through enough to give the film additional weight in order to make its final messages all the more provocative. Yes, the strengths of the film, like the whole final product itself, are consistently imperfect or even downright flawed, yet they do hit enough of their fair share of high points that ultimately make it worth the sit. However, there is an aspects that never faults, and that is, of course, Al Pacino's performance, which is thoroughly charismatic, as well as effortlessly faithful to the traits and characteristics of Frank Serpico, so much so that Pacino comes close to becoming lost in the role, yet not at the expense of his almost trademark charm. However, when things go down, Pacino is yet another supplement to the compellingness, as he really puts in a lot of subtle depth and layers, as well as intense emotion that gives us genuine insight into the honesty, anguish and overall being of our lead, thus solidifying Pacino as not simply a powerful lead, but one of, if not the greatest aspect to this film's ultimately emerging a watchable film, however flawed it may be. When it's all said and done, the film is rendered underwhelming by its consistent slowness that borders on, if not collapses into dull, a situation exacerbated by the excessive looseness of the film that leaves many a scene to drag and many a subplot or segment of nothingness to slow the momentum of the film until, after a while, it goes limp, yet not to where it's rendered dismissable, let alone medicore, keeping your eyes caught with Arthur J. Ornitz's imperfect, yet generally handsome and occasionally even resonance-supplementing cinematography, as well as Sidney Lumet's also imperfect, but consistently charming and, eventually, powerfully intriguing storytelling, with Al Pacino being unflinching in his thoroughly charismatic, layered, emotional and all around transformative performance as the honest cop who famously made a stand for proper justice, thus leaving "Serpico" to ultimately stand as a thoroughly watchable, periodically gripping and ultimately provocative drama, heavily flawed though, it may be. 2.5/5 - Fair
    Cameron J Super Reviewer

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