Monday, June 06, 2011


Son #2 has noted my backlog of unwritten Netflix movie reviews, and indicated that a deadline is forthcoming. I’m not sure what penalties might be in store should I miss said deadline, but why take the chance?

I’ll start with “Serpico,” starring Al Pacino and directed by the great Sidney Lumet, who died just a few weeks ago. The first time I saw this movie was shortly after it was released. I was 13 years old, and somehow my friend Ron (who lived next door and was a couple of years older) and I talked my mom into taking us to see it. I suspect it may have been the first “R” rated movie that I saw, though I can’t say that with total certainty. The only things I really remembered about the movie were a) it was really cool, and b) the scene where Serpico gets shot through the door.

What I had forgotten, and what I probably could not have fully appreciated at the time, is what a terrific movie “Serpico” is. It tells the true story of Frank Serpico, an honest cop in New York City at a time when honest cops seemed to be few and far between. From his first day on the force, Serpico’s colleagues try to get him to take money, because that’s the way the game is played. He won’t do it, which allows him to maintain his integrity but almost ensures that his days on the force are going to end badly. He bounces from precinct to precinct, always searching for the superior who will help him expose what's happening. For the most part, it's a futile, frustrating exercise.

What I found particularly striking about the movie was the way that Lumet filmed New York City. There is not an ounce of glamour in the New York that shows up on the screen in “Serpico.” This New York City feels oppressive and almost scary, which seems appropriate for a movie that tells a story of moral decay and corruption.

“The French Connection,” another gritty police drama filmed in New York City, won the Academy Award for Best Picture just two years before the release of “Serpico.” But for my money, Lumet’s is the better film. It may not quite reach the level of his masterpiece, “Prince of the City,” (which mines similar territory), but it’s certainly within shouting distance.

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