Imagine you’re a police officer working the streets of 1960s New York. Imagine that you apprehend somebody and you’re immediately offered a bribe. -Would you take it? Assuming you don’t, would you still refuse it when your partner does? Would you still refuse it when it turns out every other police does? And now they’re all leaning on you for not taking the money. Would you still refuse then? Of course, you wouldn’t because in the movies, you’re the good guy but this is the real world in 1960s New York and for Frank Serpico, the risks with refusal are terrifying real.
... To understand who Frank Serpico is, director Antonino D'Ambrosio takes us back to Serpico's upbringing and life before the NYPD.
Now, this isn’t the Sidney Lumet film with Al Pacino. That came after, this is the real-life documentary where the actual Frank Serpico takes back through his life and what’s happened since – and as is often the case – the truth is stranger than celluloid.
To understand who Frank Serpico is, director Antonino D’Ambrosio takes us back to Serpico’s upbringing and life before the NYPD. Trained as a social worker, Frank always through being a cop was meant to help keep kids out of jail, rather than them in one. However, policing in New York of the 1960s and 1970s it turns out is a succession of hustles and shakedowns – and that’s just from the boys in blue. Where it was expected that every new police officer would respect the contract and selectively turn a blind eye, Frank was built like that. Sticking true to his father’s words of never “run when you’re right”, Frank was never going to be the “go along to get along” guy that everybody expected him to be.
Later pushed into the plainclothes narcotics division, this was a promotion that resembled a bona fide death sentence. Hoping that the streets would do the crooked police chiefs bidding, they almost get their way when Frank is shot point-blank in the face on an arrest. However, saved by a member of the public, Frank amazingly recovers and agrees to talk to The New York Times about the bribes he’s seeing every day. As the story breaks and it becomes a public investigation Frank worries less about the death threats he’s getting than the ones he doesn’t.
However, Antonino D’Ambrosio documentary Frank Serpico doesn’t stop there or the iconic movie about Frank that followed. Instead we see a man who is still trapped by a truth that doesn’t recognise, city boundaries or even national borders. Full of touching re-unions and Frank Serpico finishes in the modern-day with a chilling sign-off that really elevates this documentary into being the essential companion piece to Al Pacino’s turn in Serpico.
Quite often you might find yourself in life asking yourself what can one person do? And then somebody like Frank Serpico comes along and shows you and for that, it’s worth every one of its 98 minutes.