A scene from SERPICO, directed by Sidney Lumet for Paramount Pictures.

Serpico (1973, Sidney Lumey)

There’s a strange disconnect between director Lumet and actor Al Pacino on Serpico. The film, at least in how Pacino plays it, is a character study. Yes, it’s a character study of someone in a great deal of transition–Pacino’s cop, over twelve rather poorly paced years, goes from idealism to resignation at the corruption he encounters–but it’s still a character study. Pacino’s performance is all about how his character is changing. It’s an amazing performance.

But Lumet presents Serpico as something of a shortened epic. It runs just over two hours, which really isn’t enough for the epic study of political machinations and indifference, especially not since the first hour deals with Pacino becoming a hippie. The hippie stuff is practically enough for its own movie and is where Lumet seems to want to go with that character study feel.

And the first half has this sweeping music from Mikis Theodorakis, sometimes overwhelming the dialogue. The second half, when Serpico is all about the police corruption stuff (and it does move better in this half), is missing the music. It’s missing the lyricism. Instead, it’s all grit, which Lumet can do and do well–though Arthur J. Ornitz’s outdoor photography is nowhere near as good as his indoor–but there’s nothing to it. Pacino’s still going through this transformation, but no one else is along for the ride.

Excellent supporting turns from Barbara Eda-Young, John Randolph, Tony Roberts.

The film just doesn’t live up to Pacino’s performance.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Sidney Lumet; screenplay by Waldo Salt and Norman Wexler, based on the book by Peter Maas; director of photography, Arthur J. Ornitz; edited by Richard Marks and Dede Allen; music by Mikis Theodorakis; production designer, Charles Bailey; produced by Martin Bregman; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Al Pacino (Serpico), John Randolph (Sidney Green), Jack Kehoe (Tom Keough), Biff McGuire (Captain McClain), Barbara Eda-Young (Laurie), Cornelia Sharpe (Leslie) and Tony Roberts (Bob Blair).


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