Serpico Review and Blu-ray Features
5 Dec 1973
Behind the Scene and other Major Plot Points
Performance of Al Pacino(1) – Sure, The Godfather made Al Pacino a star, but Serpico kept him one
Al Pacino is one of the best actors around, and he has many definitive roles. His role as Frank Serpico is certainly one of them. He acts with such charm and smoothness in some scenes, while explosive and intense in others.
Plot Line and Characters
The movie gets into a big plot line about police corruption and Serpico blowing the whistle on the department. It’s interesting and the whole point of the movie, but the reason this is such a good movie is because of the character, not the plot. The better scenes include Serpico’s personal life and struggles. There’s one great part where he explains to his girlfriend why he’s always wanted to be a cop. It’s scenes like those that make you sympathetic for him.
Performance of Al Pacino(2)
Al Pacino, right off of the first part of the Godfather trilogy, took this role with all the fire and compassion that he had in him. He sees in Serpico not just an honest cop wanting some balance and honor in his work, yet also a man, who can get as joyful and humorous as he can act subtle, furious, and thoughtful
A tremendously organized director
Associate Producer Roger Rothstein gave Sidney Lumet high marks as “a tremendously organized director” who was able to motivate everyone to do as many as 35 set-ups in a single day.
Sidney Lumet liked to do very simple things on the first day of shooting, like basic entrances and exits, to let actors and crew get used to each other and make them aware that things will move very quickly. He will often shoot just a single take and move quickly to another set-up. He said this process also helps to spot weak links in his team. The first day on this film, he worked at three different, fairly far-flung locations. Al Pacino was initially stunned, especially after coming off the methodically low, deliberate process of The Godfather (1972). But he and the rest of the cast soon learned that this fast pace had the benefit of keeping the inner tension of the narrative and the characters alive.
Cooperation of NYPD
Sidney Lumet was pleased with the cooperation of the NYPD, especially in light of the subject matter and the proximity in time to the actual events depicted in the movie. Two officers were directly assigned to the movie, and Lumet wondered what their reaction would be. “As soon as they saw the truth we were going for, how it was not a Hollywood version, they not only weren’t a problem, they more actively helped,” he noted.
RT/Meta Critic Review
Sidney Lumet’s direction adeptly combines gritty action and thought-provoking comment. (Click here to see)
A virtuoso performance by Al Pacino and some expert location work by Sidney Lumet add up to a tour de force genre piece that transcends the supercop conventions to create a moving, engrossing portrait of Frank Serpico. (Click here to see)
For Serpico, director Lumet reunited with Arthur J. Ornitz, his cinematographer from The Anderson Tapes, who made photographying the crumbling streets of New York something of a specialty in the Seventies with films like Death Wish,Next Stop, Greenwich Village and An Unmarried Woman. In contrast to the energetic, stylized photography displayed inThe French Connection just a few years earlier, Lumet and Ornitz framed Serpico‘s scenes precisely but unobtrusively, so that viewers seem to be casual eyewitnesses to scenes on the street, in offices and precincts or in Frank Serpico’s apartment.
Warner has delivered an impressive 1080p, AVC-encoded Blu-ray of Serpico, working from a capable Paramount transfer. There are those in the Blu-ray community who are given to opining on the age of a transfer, based solely on examination of the Blu-ray image. I find that to be an exercise in guesswork, absent information from the studio, which was not available here. I also think it’s irrelevant. If an image harvest was capably performed, it doesn’t matter whether it was done yesterday or years ago. What matters is how the raw data has been handled since then.
The technical crew that processed Serpico has created a film-like image that is detailed and, for a film of this era, as sharp as it can be without the application of electronic enhancements that would change the film’s original look. The image has not been subjected to high frequency filtering or other digital processing that leaves obvious artifacts. The color correction accurately reproduces the flat urban palette of browns, rusts and dull grays and blues in the outer boroughs where Serpico spent most of his career. Brighter hues appear occasionally (e.g., at Frank’s graduation, or during a lengthy party scene), but nothing in Serpico “pops”, nor should it.
Everyone has their own idea of what constitutes “demo” material. For many viewers, it’s a brightly colored landscape or a special effects extravaganzas. For me, it’s the precision with which a disc like Serpico replicates scenes such as Frank’s meeting with Bob Blair in the magnificent but deserted Lewisohn Stadium amphitheater, which was demolished shortly after filming, or the scene where Frank’s captain abandons him under the Hell Gate Bridge in Queens, two lone figures in the distance. Such scenes are dramatically powerful, and their drama is expressed in visual terms, which is the essence of cinema. Blu-ray brings that content to the home theater in a way that hasn’t been seen since Serpico was in theaters.
The image has a natural-looking grain pattern that, I suspect, is finer than that of many release prints. Although there was ample additional space on the BD-50, Warner struck to their usual range of compression, coming out at the high end with an average bitrate of 25.95 Mbps. Certainly the image did not display any artifacts.
Serpico was released in mono, which is available in a two-channel version as Dolby Digital 2.0 (listed as “restored mono”) with identical left and right front channels. The default audio track is lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1, which contains a very conservative remix of the mono track that retains the front-oriented nature of the mix, but uses the channel separations to give a little more authority and somewhat deeper bass extension to the score by Mikis Theodorakis (Zorba the Greek). The score is used sparingly, a point discussed by Lumet in the extras. The soundtrack is dominated by dialogue (which is clear), sound effects and occasional source music.
The extras have been ported over from Paramount’s 2002 DVD edition (and appear to be entirely different from those on the Region B-locked Studio Canal disc released in January 2011).
- Serpico: From Real to Reel (480i; 1.33:1; 9:58): In separate interviews, Lumet and producer Martin Bregman discuss the genesis of the project, the evolution of the script and the early involvement of John Avildsen.
- Inside Serpico (480i; 1.33:1; 12:55): Again in separate interviews, Lumet (primarily) and Bregman discuss the logistics of production and post-production (which was happening almost simultaneously with shooting), as well as Pacino’s approach to the role.
- Serpico: Favorite Moments (480i; 1.33:1; 2:38): Lumet and Bregman each identify favorite scenes from the film.
- Photo Gallery with Commentary by Director Sidney Lumet (480i; 1.33:1; 4:24): The photos are primarily lobby cards, but the commentary recounts the fascinating debate between Lumet and executive producer Dino De Laurentiis about whether the film should have music at all. (Lumet wanted none.) It was Lumet’s idea to recruit Theodorakis, who had just been released from prison in Greece by the military junta, and he describes their collaboration.
- Theatrical Trailer (480i; 1.78:1; 4:16): Perhaps the most notable feature of the trailer is its heavy reliance on still photos.