Fresh off his enormous success as Michael Corleone in The Godfather, Al Pacino’s first leading role came a year later in 1973’s true crime drama, Serpico. Al plays Frank Serpico, an honest cop who helps take down and expose the widespread corruption of the NYPD.
Ever since Frank was a little boy he had dreamed of becoming a police officer and wearing the uniform that he believed to represent honor and respect. When he joined the force in 1960, he was disillusioned by the corruption and cover up all around him. Frank’s unwillingness to take bribes did not sit well with his fellow officers and caused much in-fighting. In addition, Frank was a hippie at heart, whose long hair and beard, and preference for Greenwich Village, opera, and ballet baffled his conventional co-workers.
In 1970, he finally got the attention of a New York Times reporter who broke the story, which resulted in the formation of the Knapp Commission that investigated and ultimately revealed the rampant corruption in the city’s police department. On February 3, 1971, during a drug bust in Brooklyn, Frank was shot in the face by an alleged dealer while his fellow officers did nothing to help. He survived, but lost hearing in one ear and suffered permanent damage from the bullet fragments lodged in his brain. This raised the question, was Frank set up for breaking the blue wall of silence?
Al Pacino won his first Golden Globe Award and earned an Oscar nomination for this role. He would reunite with director Sidney Lumet two years later for another one of his iconic roles as Sonny in Dog Day Afternoon.
If you have been binging Serial and Making a Murderer, you should definitely check out the book this film was based on, Serpico: The Classic Story of the Cop Who Couldn’t Be Bought by Peter Maas. Maas was a best-selling author who specialized in crime writing. The book provides further insight into the inner workings of Frank Serpico and explores more of his personal relationships, and is a must-read for true crime fans.