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Serpico

review by Zach B.

 

 

Rated: R

Running Time: 130 minutes

Starring: Al Pacino

Screenplay by: Waldo Salt and Norman Wexler
Based on the book by: Peter Maas

Directed by: Sidney Lumet

 

Studio: Paramount

Retail Price: $24.99

Features: Serpico: Real To Reel, Inside Serpico, Serpico: Favorite Moments, Photo Gallery with Commentary by Director Sidney Lumet, Theatrical Trailer

Specs: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Digital 5.1, English Mono, French Mono, English Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Scene Selection (18 Scenes)

Released: December 3rd, 2002

 

 

Taking place in the early 1970s and based on a true story, "Serpico" follows the story of Frank Serpico (Al Pacino in top form). The man has always dreamed of being a cop, and after starting out with promise, he soon becomes an undercover officer and is quite good at it. The problem is, there is corruption that is surrounding Serpico. His fellow officers take money from criminals, but Scorpio does not believe that is right. As Serpico sets out to expose the truth, especially after agreeing to take part in an investigation, he soon finds his life becoming more complex and even in grave danger as everything comes together...

I have always found "Serpico" to be a pretty amazing character study. It's more or less your standard story of a decent, good man pitted against an evil, cruel world. Serpico sees corruption around him and knows that all of it is morally wrong, and it all does disgust him. Thankfully, he just doesn't take it and looks for a way to do something about what it is going on, despite the fact his life might be in danger. Serpico is a very inspiring man, and while this film is probably dramatized based on the real events, there is a lot to take away from Serpico's character of doing the right thing, being noble, being strong and standing up for your own beliefs.

"Serpico" probably ranks as one of the best autobiographical based films I've ever seen. Told mainly in flashback after a somewhat bloody opening, the film traces Serpico's career as a cop. From his opening days to his undercover stings and to his ultimate test of character, Serpico's good intentions and strong feelings are shown throughout. The cops are apathetic, but Serpico knows what it means to be a cop and to help people. It is quite fascinating how it all goes down.

Veteran director Sidney Lumet brings this tale of morality to full life, nicely capturing the grittiness and somber beauty of 1970s era New York City with some wonderful, in your face shots that give an extra touch of humanity to the already strong tale. The film is well paced and well edited, and you really get a strong sense of Serpico and all the events in a little bit over two hours, which I think is not an easy feat. Lumet's style is a perfect fit for the film and he makes it work for all the better.

The screenplay adaptation from Norman Wexler and Waldo Salt is equally firm, with fine dialogue and great scenes to show off the film's themes as well as making it an adept study of Serpico. Of course, we also have Al Pacino's Academy Award® nominated performance. The actor is known for many great, intense performances and I think his role as Frank Serpico certainly ranks as one of his best. Serpico goes through a wide range of emotions which Pacino flawlessly reflects. There is a driven intensity that cannot be denied, but there are also several states of anger, being naive and unpleasantness that the character faces. A lot of it is pure, raw emotion that only Pacino can handle. It's really hard to imagine anyone else in the role, and I don't say that often. So in all, "Serpico" is not only a great cop film, but in its essence, a great character study about human morality that should not be missed.

 

"Serpico" is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and the results are pretty good. Sadly, a lot of the transfers show signs that this film is three decades old. The image looks a bit faded, not to mention it is very grainy. The film is loaded though with scratches, blemishes, nicks, pieces of dirt... as if it was dragged through those dirty city streets themselves. Not only is it annoying, but it is very distracting. Also distracting is the excess edge halos. Still, there is good to be found on the transfer. Detail is fine but not spectacular, while color saturation to reflect the bleakness is pretty good. In all, it's fine, but it could have been much better.

 

This DVD release gets an English Dolby Digital 5.1 remix, but I think viewers are probably left off better with restored English mono track. The 5.1 mix has pretty low fidelity and feels pretty limited in its own dynamics. In the more action flavored scenes, there are some good surrounds. However, other surrounds just feel clumped together and feel awfully thin and probably don't have the impact the mixers intended. Subwoofer use also isn't exactly grand. Dialogue is clear though. Believe it or not, the English mono track feels much more natural and more fitting (thank the Lord it's also included) and feels more true to the film. Still, you can take your pick, and you also get a French mono track, English closed captions and English subtitles.

 

It's not packed, but at least it's better than nothing! Serpico: Real To Reel is a ten minute look back at the film's transition from page to screen. Producer Martin Bergman and director Sidney Lumet discuss the adaptation, but it's more on the making of the film. Bergman reflects on his prior career as manager, while the topics of casting, the screenplay and how it all came together is brought about. It's right to the point and a very nice watch. Stills and clips from the film are also included throughout.

Inside Serpico lasts a few seconds under thirteen minutes. Lumet and Bergman also talk in this featurette, but this is more of Lumet's time and also makes me wish more that he did a commentary, because he's quite interesting, insightful and has a rather nice speaking of voice. Topics of trying to get all the exact details from the story, the order in which the film was shot and what the film means to him, especially from an audience perspective. More clips and stills are shown as well.

There is also a Photo Gallery with Commentary by Director Sidney Lumet. Damn, after watching this I really wished Lumet did a commentary. Lumet talks with much passion and humor, discussing scoring the film basically over four and a half minutes. I guess Paramount didn't want to do a featurette on the music or whatever (which would have been great if you ask me), so they took Lumet's comments and stuck them over tons of stills which are nice to look at. There is a little video footage of him toward the end though. Still worth checking out nonetheless to hear this production story.

Serpico: Favorite Moments is the shortest of the three featurettes, lasting a little over two and a half minutes. Bergman and Lumet talk about their favorite scenes and why, and then the clips are shown. All the featurettes and Photo Gallery are in full frame and have English and French subtitles. Every time you start one up the French subtitles automatically appear. Finally, there's the pretty weird Theatrical Trailer in anamorphic widescreen. That lasts four minutes and fourteen seconds.

 

"Serpico" still remains a good movie thirty years later, and Paramount's DVD edition does do it justice. While the 5.1 remix is okay, I probably would have preferred a more cleaned up transfer. Still, I enjoyed the supplements and the price is right. It's worth renting if you've never seen this modern favorite, otherwise, if you're a fan, it is worth buying.