A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this dark police drama deals with adult issues such as dishonesty, brutality, and corruption of law enforcement officers throughout a big city police department. There are numerous violent and suspenseful scenes which include an attempted rape, the beating of handcuffed prisoners by policemen, chases and take-downs on foot and in vehicles, fighting and gunfire. A man is shot in the face, then shown wounded and bloody during several sequences. The hero is in danger through much of the film. There is partial nudity (bare breasts) in romantic scenes, with no explicit sexual activity other than kisses and embracing. Characters drink and smoke; the main character gets very drunk in a club.
What's the story?
In the early 1970s, real-life rookie cop Frank Serpico (Al Pacino in an Award-winning performance) joined the NYPD. He was idealistic, naive, and committed to excellence. A non-conformist, he barreled ahead with innovative and often eccentric methods that other officers found off-putting and sometimes arrogant. It wasn't long before Frank was stunned to realize that the squad was filled with officers on the take, brutality, and bosses turning a blind eye to misconduct. Disillusioned, Frank tried to find allies in his efforts to deal with the corruption, but was stymied by upper level personnel who were either willing participants in the criminal activity or fearful for their own careers and unwilling to upset the status quo. His frustration took a terrible toll on his personal life as well. As events accelerate, Frank becomes more and more at risk, until his career, his sanity, and his life are threatened.
Is it any good?
SERPICO is a movie released in 1973 that is as impactful and relevant today as it was when it was made. Performances, writing, attention to detail, and the visual story-telling are all first rate. With stark, harsh scenes which show greed and savagery on the part of both the criminals and the law enforcement officers assigned to protect the public, it is a story of courage, risk, and weighty consequences for both the hero and those he opposes.
Frank Serpico was an "outsider" in company that followed a code of protecting the police brotherhood at all costs. His dilemma transcended the confines of the station house and will have resonance for older teens and adults who find his story and this film both relatable and admirable.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about making choices under tough circumstances. Would you report bad behavior if you knew it could end up hurting you? What factors would influence your decision?
Often heroes (in real life and in fiction) have a negative character trait -- a "tragic flaw" -- which threatens their ability to overcome great obstacles and reach their objective. What was Serpico's tragic flaw?
- In theaters: December 5, 1973
- On DVD or streaming: December 2, 2002
- Cast: Al Pacino
- Director: Sidney Lumet
- Studio: Paramount Pictures
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Misfits and Underdogs
- Run time: 130 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: for strong violence including rape, pervasive strong language, sexuality/nudity
- Awards/Honors: Golden Globe
Themes & Topics
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.