Serpico is a 1973 American neo-noir biographical crime film directed by Sidney Lumet, and starring Al Pacino. Waldo Salt and Norman Wexler wrote the screenplay, adapting Peter Maas's biography of NYPD officer Frank Serpico, who went undercover to expose corruption in the police force. Both Maas's book and the film cover 12 years, 1960 to 1972.
The film and principals were nominated for numerous awards, earning recognition for its score, direction, screenplay, and Pacino's performance. The film was also a commercial success.
Working as a uniformed patrolman, Frank Serpico excels at every assignment. He moves on to plainclothes assignments, where he slowly discovers a hidden world of corruption and graft among his own colleagues. After witnessing cops commit violence, take payoffs, and other forms of police corruption, Serpico decides to expose what he has seen, but is harassed and threatened by his peers. His struggle leads to infighting within the police force, problems in his personal relationships, and his life being threatened. Finally, after being shot in the face during a drug bust on February 3, 1971, he testifies before the Knapp Commission, a government inquiry into NYPD police corruption between 1970 and 1972. After receiving a New York City Police Department Medal of Honor and a disability pension, Serpico resigns from the force and moves to Switzerland.
- Al Pacino as Frank Serpico
- John Randolph as Chief Sidney Green
- Jack Kehoe as Tom Keough
- Biff McGuire as Captain Inspector McClain
- Barbara Eda-Young as Laurie
- Cornelia Sharpe as Leslie Lane
- Tony Roberts as Bob Blair
- John Medici as Pasquale Serpico
- Allan Rich as District Attorney Herman Tauber
- Norman Ornellas as Don Rubello
- Edward Grover as Inspector Lombardo
- Joseph Bova as Potts
- Gene Gross as Captain Tolkin
- John Stewart as Waterman
- Woodie King Jr. as Larry
- James Tolkan as Lieutenant Steiger
- Ed Crowley as Barto
- Bernard Barrow as Inspector Roy Palmer
- Sal Carollo as Mr. Serpico
- Mildred Clinton as Mrs. Serpico
- Nathan George as Lieutenant Nate Smith
- Alan North as Brown
- Lewis J. Stadlen as Jerry Berman
- John McQuade as Inspector Kellogg
- M. Emmet Walsh as Gallagher
- George Ede as Daley
- F. Murray Abraham as Detective Partner
- John Brandon as Police Lieutenant
- Sam Coppola as Cop
- René Enríquez as Cervantes Teacher
- Conard Fowkes as Cop
- Judd Hirsch as Cop
- Tony Lo Bianco as Cop
Prior to any work on the film, producer Martin Bregman had lunch with Peter Maas to discuss a film adaptation of his biography of Frank Serpico. Waldo Salt, a screenwriter, began to write the script, which director Sidney Lumet deemed to be too long. Another screenwriter, Norman Wexler, did the structural work followed by play lines.
Director John G. Avildsen was originally slated to direct the movie, but was removed from production due to differences with producer Bregman. Lumet took the helm as director just before filming.
The story was filmed in New York City. A total of 104 different locations in four of the five boroughs of the city (all except Staten Island) were used. An apartment at 5-7 Minetta Street in Manhattan's Greenwich Village was used as Serpico's residence, though he lived on Perry Street during the events depicted in the film. Lewisohn Stadium, which was closed at the time of filming, was used for one scene.
Serpico was a major commercial success, given the times and its modest budget, which ranged from $2.5 million to $3 million. It grossed $29.8 million at the domestic box office, making it the 12th highest-grossing film of 1973.
Serpico was widely acclaimed by critics. At Rotten Tomatoes, it currently holds at a score of 90%, based on reviews from 39 critics, and an average rating of 8 out of 10. At Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average score out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the film received an average score of 87 based on seven reviews.
Pacino's role as Frank Serpico is ranked at #40 on the American Film Institute's AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains list. Serpico is also ranked at #84 on the AFI's AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers, a list of America's most inspiring films.
The original score was composed by Mikis Theodorakis, nominated for both the Grammy Award for Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media and the BAFTA Award for Best Film Music. Sidney Lumet's direction was nominated for both the BAFTA Award for Best Direction and the Directors Guild of America. The film was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Drama.
The film also received Academy Awards nominations for Best Actor (Al Pacino) and Best Adapted Screenplay. The script won the Writers Guild Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.
Pacino won his first Golden Globe award for Best Actor in 1974 for his performance in the film. He also received a BAFTA nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role.
Serpico was released on VHS and is available on Region 1 DVD since 2002 and Region 1 Blu-ray since 2013. The Masters of Cinema label have released the film in a Region B Blu-ray on 24 February 2014 in the United Kingdom. This version contains three video documentaries about the film, as well as a photo gallery with an audio commentary by director Sidney Lumet and a 44-page booklet.