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While the film is an examination of the kind of corruption that was running rife in police departments of the time, the heart of the film comes from the emotional journey that Serpico goes through as his dream job becomes a nightmare and he realises that he can't do the job that he loves.
Sidney Lumet, who was a last-minute replacement as director for Joe's John Avildsen, brings his expertise of location filming in New York City into play in this tense, gritty film.
Al Pacino received his second Oscar nomination for his performance in Serpico, a gritty 1973 docudrama which found Pacino playing a real life police officer trying to blow the lid off police corruption.