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By now Al Pacino's performance in Serpico is something that if you're not familiar with it, you're familiar with the Serpico name being dropped into a lot of pop culture in the decades since; a guy who wants to do his job and get rid of the bad guys in power who are abusing same. And if you aren't familiar with the film, it's based on the real-life story of Frank Serpico, whose life is reminisced in this documentary bearing his name.
Directed by Antonio D'Ambrosio, the film includes extensive interviews with Serpico and some of the figures during his era of dealing with corruption in the New York police force. Serpico expands this look into a biopic of sorts as he shares stories about growing up and working in New York when he was a child, including an fascinating story about how a cop stiffed him after a young Serpico shined his shoes, and his father confronting him on the next visit. In retrospect it is a foreboding story into Serpico's life as a patrolman in the City. He recounts the story of his shooting and his testifying for an anticorruption committee afterwards, and his life since the film. When you consider that it's been almost a half century since the film, Serpico's quietly done a lot towards police abuse of power in recent years.
I've seen bits and pieces of Serpico through the years and am familiar with the general notes and historical details in it, but seeing Serpico flesh out the additional things and walk through his childhood home, or the place he was shot, it does provide a bit of schmaltzy and effective emotional background to his motivations. And as he talks about the times fighting corruption and some of the people involved and their resistance towards it, it does give one pause. One of the interview subjects talks about how corruption scandals appear every 20 years or so, and it's not really because they're sought out, just that the crooked cops are dumb and/or brazen enough to get caught red-handed and things snowball from there. It's startling to realize.
Also, with the rise of police-involved incidents of violence, Serpico's position on police corruption has elevated his profile further, and he contributes additional resonance in some of these events by reciting his statement from decades prior, and suggesting that little if anything has changed since then. There is a certain sense of distance to the man in part because of circumstances, but since the times haven't really changed, there's no sense in him doing so, now in his eighties.
I think that Frank Serpico quietly has something for everyone; it's a complement to the noted movie, it looks at a sensitive subject of today and parallels to the times decades ago, it looks at a guy who perhaps didn't plan for any of this to happen, and one wonders how he would have been if it didn't. It's not to say Serpico should have accepted any monies from his ‘brothers in blue,' just that faith in the system only to see it not only betray you but try to put its foot on you in the process can be extremely discouraging, and you can see it in just about every action in the film.The Disc:
The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation for Frank Serpico is good, considering the source material is juggling older stills photos, clips from the Pacino film, old newsreel of various Serpico testimony appearances through the years, and even people watching modern Serpico interview film on a computer! And it all looks good, the interviews include naturally replicated and accurate colors and no DNR or any new haloing, and looks good for the feature.The Sound:
Dolby Digital 5.1 surround for a generally dialogue-driven documentary, but said dialogue is consistent and well-balanced and does not require much user adjustment. Environmental noise does appear in the satellite channels and sounds natural, such as during the moments when Serpico walks the streets today, and music sounds fine without being dynamic.Extras:
There's an alternate opening (2:11) which for a documentary is an interesting choice, then three deleted scenes (4:02) and two behind the scenes segments (7:13) along with a trailer (2:20).Final Thoughts:
Even in a vacuum of not being familiar with Serpico, Frank Serpico is compelling enough to be an easy recommendation as the retired policeman and activist of the same name makes you laugh, may make you cry, but certainly makes you think about things while you empathize with the plight he had to endure. Technically the disc is fine and the extras are quick and superficial, but the film is certainly worth the time even if you think you know Serpico's story.