Frank Serpico: The Man Who Challenged Corruption
Sunday afternoon The Music Hall presented Antonino D’Ambrosio’s documentary Frank Serpico as part of the New Hampshire Film Festival program.
Produced by D’Ambrosio with Brian Devine, Brooke Devine, and Jason Orans, the film stars Frank Serpico as himself, accompanied by a cast of historians, neighbors, friends, authors, journalists, and retired police officers.
In 1971 Frank Serpico famously exposed corruption in the New York City police department. His testimony at the Knapp’s commission investigation earned him death threats, a life in exile, and dubious fame: Serpico became traitor to some, hero to others. D’Ambrosio’s documentary reconnects with the former police officer 45 years later to illuminate both the events that led him to become a whistleblower and the profound effect this decision had on his life.
In the documentary’s most touching scenes, Serpico reenacts moments of his life – his meeting with a police officer as a boy, dealing with harassment from his colleagues, a narcotics operation during which he was shot in the face while two detectives stood nearby. Serpico used to work under cover and was clearly good at it – he changes voices, plays with an accent. But this is also a sad testimony to how much the events that took place almost half a century ago still haunt him. The shooting came a few years after Serpico began collaborating with press in secret, laying groundwork to expose the highest levels of corruption.
The documentary emphasizes that Serpico’s actions were not revenge or embittered lashing out of a cop passed over for a promotion. He believed in the integrity of police and wanted the department to become a place where honest officers wouldn’t be afraid to work. Complete with arresting camera work, decades of archival footage, and charisma of Serpico himself, the film is an in-depth look at a man who sacrificed his career to preserve the high standard of his profession and an emotional reminder that it is not enough to wear the uniform – actions must match status.