Serpico (1973)
Paramount Home Video
Cast: Al Pacino
Extras: Featurettes, Photo Gallery, Theatrical Trailer

"Who do you trust when everyone’s a crook?" – Queensryche

After Al Pacino was put on the map as an actor in Francis Ford Coppola’s "The Godfather" – yes it was his very first leading part – he followed up the critical success of the movie with a performance that marked his break-through – "Serpico." It was the film that catapulted him to stardom and put him on the Hollywood A-list in an instant. His harrowing performance as Frank Serpico not only made a lasting impression on all of us, it also showed the emotional depths that Al Pacino can go to in order to bring a character to life. To this very date it is widely recognized as one of his best films and Paramount Home Entertainment is paying tribute to the movie with a fine DVD.

When Frank Serpico (Al Pacino) graduates from the Police Academy he is full of ideals of what his work should look like. Soon however reality catches up with the young, rebellious officer as he realizes that not everything seems to be a black and white as he initially expected. Policemen are human, too, and they are sorely underpaid. At the same time they are in positions of power, demanding respect from their fellow citizens. It is the breeding ground for corruption and dishonesty. Serpico struggles with the situation. Being paid-off has never been an option for this man, who is honest to the bone and it becomes increasingly painful for him to see how everyone else around him is crooked. And so he tries to pull the blanket and reveal the truth. But who do you turn to for help when everyone you talk to seems to have only one thing on their mind – to pay you off with bags of dirty money?

Apart from the compelling story that makes up "Serpico" it is Pacino’s performance that catapults this film into the realms of the best movies ever made. The sense of powerlessness, the growing desperation and his growing inability to contain that agony are brought to the screen in such intensity that it makes you want to scream with the actor.
But also the movie’s production is quite remarkable. The locations are authentic, down to the mold on the walls, and the filmmakers manage to perfectly capture the grittiness and harshness of police work. Never does the film try to paint anyone with simple clichés. No matter how crooked the system is, the film always offers some insight into what leads those people to becoming what they are, how big the temptation is and how easy it is for these people to abuse their positions. It is a problem that is intrinsic to police work, I believe, and one that certainly hasn’t been resolved. While the formation of the department of Internal Affairs – largely due to Frank Serpico’s work – is a step in the right direction, it is hard to believe that its counter-active methods yield the results we would all like to see. I’m not here to preach politics, however, so let’s move on.

Paramount Home Entertainment is bringing the movie to DVD in a <$16x9,16x9 enhanced> <$PS,widescreen> transfer in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Some of the slightest grain is evident in select shots, which is a deliberate effect of the filmmakers for increased grittiness and it is faithfully reproduced here without exaggeration. The transfer is very clean and offers remarkable definition. Every detail is perfectly reproduced without degradation. The colors reproduction of the DVD is meticulous and faithfully reproduces the sometimes drab scenery the film conjures up. Blacks are deep and solid and never break up. As a result shadows are equally deep but never lose detail or definition, which is essential for a film like "Serpico" where countless scenes play in dark hallways and gloomy exteriors. No edge-enhancement is noticeable and the compression of the film has been handled perfectly without the introduction of compression artifacts.

The DVD contains a remastered and remixed <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> audio track as well as the original monaural audio track in English and a French dub. All tracks are very workable, although the 5.1 remix clearly gets the nod. It is a very delicately done mix that doesn’t change the perceptive quality of the original track, but adds a little more room in the mix. The spatial integration is very good and the engineers made sure never to become overly effect-driven. Especially the ambient sounds benefit from the remix as they are integrated in a wide soundfield that adds credibility to the overall mix. Also the music has been re-integrated with more directionality and transparency. It is a very good and masterfully done remix of the original track that perfectly suits the movie.

Paramount Home Entertainment has even added some special features to this disc, which deserves an honorable mention, given Paramount’s typically Spartan stance on the DVD subject. Although sadly no <$commentary,commentary track> has been supplied for this DVD, the disc offers other goodies, such as "From Real To Reel," a 10-minute featurette that covers how the events of the real Frank Serpico have been adapted to the screen. It is an interesting look behind the scenes as producer Martin Bregman and director Sidney Lumet discusses how Peter Maas’ novel has been turned into the film. Among other things they explain how they settled on Al Pacino for the lead, how Al studied the character by becoming friends with the real Frank Serpico, and how he then put all this in his part.

"Inside Serpico" is another featurette that covers general production issues and the making of the movie in a more general sense.

"Favorite Moments" is a brief segment in which the filmmakers point out what they feel are the most significant and poignant moments in the movie. It is hard to argue with their choices as they really stress the quality of the material and the outstanding performances.

A Photo Gallery can also be found on the release. Interestingly this gallery is complemented by Sidney Lumet’s commentary while the actual movie is not. The commentary is unrelated to the photos we see and covers musical issues the film had to resolve – very interesting anecdote by the way. Still it is a nice accompaniment for the many photos the gallery contains. It consists of many publicity photos as well as behind the scenes shots on location.

To round out the release, Paramount has also added the movie’s theatrical trailer on the DVD.

"Serpico" is a masterpiece and an exceedingly harrowing film. Everything about it is flawless. The story, the characters, the execution, the performances, the lines, the photography. It is simply one of those rare films where everything comes together so perfectly that the end result is breathtaking. Fortunately Paramount stepped out of their way a little this time and added a few bonus materials to the release, which add even more credence to the experience as a whole. Every serious cineast and any movie lover will have to have this film in their collection there can be no doubt. Paramount makes it easy to own a flawless copy of this film now with their DVD release. Go, get it already!