Police work involving a black woman getting raped followed by a dance party followed by police work followed by a discussion of Japanese art followed by police work involving smoking pot to ‘learn about its effects’ followed by the best breakup ever in a Greenwich village apartment and police work and the worst breakup ever in a chic coffee shop plus more police work. That sounds like a B-movie or a Sidney Lumet biopic, “Serpico,” that it actually is. I also realized that the hipster references only made up less than ten minutes of the movie, but they stand out. The movie after all depicts the cusp of the 1970’s and not only does an Italian American police officer, Frank ‘Paco’ Serpico (Al Pacino) like his friends do, from the old neighborhood get within the wave of the moment but he takes advantage of it and incorporates the whims of the baby boomers to fit in despite his job as a cop.
Mixing “the scene” into a cop movie makes this a unique example of a genre, and it’s surprising how a little element can have such a huge impact. Instead of being a moralist, Paco is an enlightened man and that’s what drives him as the honest police officer in a sea of payola cops. He ends up with a suffering girlfriend instead of a crying wife and children, but to refer again to this coolest of police officers, we still feel like we’re on the brink of losing a person to his profession.
And from what I’ve seen of their work so far, this is the most cinematic of Lumet’s movies since it relies on cadence than blocking or script like it does in his other movies I’ve seen. And it’s one of Pacino’s best performances, being whiny and intellectual and loving all in the same person. Also prepare yourself for a mustache and beard and ridiculous, fun-to-watch outfits including a Rabbi costume. The Fleet Foxes look actually makes his eyes pop and look benevolent. Were his grooming and his hemp fabric shirts supposed to evoke Jesus? No one else will allow him become all those because he’s too old and it wouldn’t work.
In “Days of Heaven,” (again) Bill (Richard Gere) leaves Chicago and gets farm work for himself, his sister Linda and his girlfriend Abby. Bill and Abby pretend as brother and sister.
So the question is are they hicks or not?
They do straddle the line. For the characters’ sake we’ll pretend that they did so because it’s better to get work under this guise. That doesn’t stop them from looking like kissing cousins in front of the farm. Of course, everyone notices, including the farmer (Sam Shepard) who eventually marries Abby.
I have always considered them as tragic figures, because OK, I have to explain this further by saying that this post exists because of a discussion I had with a friend after finally seeing the movie on the big screen. One of the things he also said was that the main characters weren’t that intelligent. The fact that not only did they get beyond Chicago city limits but that they maneuvered themselves into the farmer’s mansion disproves that. The tragic figure reading comes in when they get into something so big that they can’t get out of it, a general plot that will keep most eyes’ attention.
They’re also not that articulate, as shown in Linda’s narration, having the vernacular of Chicago streets. This is the exact opposite of “The Thin Red Line,” where guys in Southern accents have poetic narration. I never really expect intelligence from my characters, nor do I expect them to evolve. As long as the characters aren’t Coen Brothers stupid or Jimmy Stewart awkward. I’m saying that even if I like both the Coens and Stewart.
I’m comforted that they’re not really brother and sister. Bill and Abby’s relationship is also weaved into a narrative and fictional environment that doesn’t make me feel uncomfortable when I’m looking at them. Thankfully.