Prime Video movie of the day: Al Pacino takes on a city of corrupt cops in the dark, gritty and thrilling Serpico

Al Pacino in Serpico
(Image credit: Prime Video)

Serpico is a classic movie, a cop drama with Al Pacino as the titular detective battling corruption in the police department of 1970s New York. Based on a real person and directed by Sidney Lumet, it's a grim and gripping thriller. The biographical crime drama is what Slant magazine describes as "an exemplar of a certain brand of character-based social realism that Hollywood excelled at in the 1970s, as well as an essential time capsule of New York City during the same period".

Serpico is a true crime classic

Like similarly gritty movies of its era, there aren't many LOLs in Serpico. It's gritty and uncompromising in its depiction of a rotten police force and a city that at the time felt like it was in deep decline. This is the New York of Mean Streets, and the cops are the meanest of all.

"Serpico feels like a deeply cynical and suspicious picture, but this is tempered by its faith in the unflagging decency of its central crusader," says Film Frenzy, and while Newsweek felt that the movie itself was mediocre it was elevated by a superb performance by Pacino. "Al Pacino is destined to become the next big American film star," it accurately predicted. Empire was one of very many to praise the actor, noting that "Al Pacino delivers a powerful performance in this compelling biopic of a cop and a city's police force".

"Sidney Lumet's direction adeptly combines gritty action and thought-provoking comment," said Variety, while the Chicago Reader said that "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." And sadly the New York Times' review feels just as relevant decades later. It described it as "a remarkable record of one man's rebellion against the sort of sleaziness and second-rateness that has affected so much American life, from the ingredients of its hamburgers to the ethics of its civil servants and politicians."

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Carrie Marshall

Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall (Twitter) has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now. She is the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR.