Sometimes even an Oscar nominated performance can’t prop up a film enough to make it a classic. Such is the case in 1973’s Serpico and Al Pacino’s performance in the titular role. While the performance itself it great, there isn’t enough else in the film for me to truly enjoy watching it.
The film has a very simple plot in that the story throughout the movie involves Frank Serpico, played by Al Pacino, and his struggle to be an honest cop in New York City. Many believe without viewing this film that the story is about exposing police corruption. That’s true and that happens in the film but the character of Frank Serpico is interested in being a policeman, not a whistle blower, not a man looking to make his name by taking on crooked cops. The best thing about the film is that Serpico just wants to do his job and expects the same from those around him.
Watching this film makes me sad for Al Pacino. In this day and age, all we see from Pacino is the hoo-ah! Pacino. He’s playing the caricature of Al Pacino in every role instead of being the character written on the page and in the eye of the director. Here, as Frank Serpico, Pacino is tough, confused, frustrated, determined, and defeated. These are qualities he shows in his face, an acting trait he apparently refuses to use as he’s aged. One can’t help but marvel at the performance in the film, although it was a film itself that I felt largely unaffected by.
When I hear the title, Serpico, I used to always think of Pacino diving after a crook in the grass in the middle of the night. That’s the only thing I knew about the film before sitting down. I had the impression that it was a cop against the world type story but didn’t know the specifics until the film started. What I got what exactly what I expected except for a couple of things. First of all, I loved the beginning of the film. Setting the film up with essentially the main action point of the journey is a technique that I really like in film. What I didn’t expect in the film was how hesitant Frank is to the idea of calling out these cops. I find it admirable that all he wants to do in the film is catch bad guys on the street and wants nothing to do with wealth or fame. The other thing I didn’t expect from the film is there really isn’t much to it from my viewing. The acting from Pacino is great, and there is an obstacle to overcome but I wanted entirely with Serpico on her journey regardless of the performance by Pacino. What I didn’t enjoy was that he was a tough guy to cheer for. Yes, he wanted to do what’s right but I recognized that I just didn’t particularly like the character. In this film in you don’t like the character, you’re not going to enjoy the film as the entire film is centered on Frank Serpico and his journey. The other thing that kind of brought me down was the end text on the film. We have a beautiful shot of Serpico on a street corner with his dog, looking off into the distance and that would have been a great way to the end the film. Instead we get this text that states how he’s living in Switzerland and is fine. The film spoon feeds the ending and I feel it would be more powerful if the ending was left a little more to the imagination.