Considering how often police reform makes its way into headlines, when is it not time to revisit the remarkable whistle-blowing courage of legendary New York cop Frank Serpico?
If you’ve watched the Al Pacino movie enough times already, there’s now Antonino D’Ambrosio’s documentary “Frank Serpico,” an extended ovation for the honest son of an equally honest Italian immigrant shoe store owner who told his son, “Never run when you’re right.” And as a young, individualistic officer in the late ’60s and ’70s he didn’t, routinely speaking out against institutionalized corruption in the NYPD, to the embarrassment of city brass. (His defenders are careful to distinguish between the misapplied term “rat,” which implies naming names as a self-protecting measure, and what Serpico did, which was pro-actively expose a rotten system so as to fix it.)
The long-retired, periodically hermit-like subject makes for a lively participant. He takes D’Ambrosio on a tour of his old precinct haunts, acting out memorable exchanges — he remains proud of his role-playing undercover skills — and revisiting the apartment hallway where he took a bullet to the head. (Suspiciously that day, no “officer down” dispatch was ever called.)
There’s also plenty of archival footage, excerpts from the Sidney Lumet film (and stories about its making), all jammed in among the many interviews with colleagues and friends who marvel at how brave a change agent he was. Serpico fanboy John Turturro reading aloud from Brecht’s “Life of Galileo” is a bit much, but for the most part this is an engaging refresher course in what fighting the power looks like.
Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes
Playing: Arena Cinelounge Sunset, Hollywood