This year marks the 40th anniversary of Francis Ford Coppola's virtuously stunning The Godfather Part II (1974) starring Al Pacino. However, while Coppola's much vaunted masterpiece is superbly operatic and nihilistically iconic, it is Pacino's work with director Sidney Lumet in the 1973 movie Serpico that is sometimes overlooked by younger audiences.

The movie is set in New York and covers the true life story of a police officer who fought rampant corruption in the police service. The movie was based on the biography of Frank Serpico by Peter Maas. Serpico was in exile in Switzerland and met with Pacino for a few days in New York as Pacino crafted his method acting in a way that was truly astounding.

The shoot for the movie was wrapped in 51 days as Pacino was about to go and shoot the second part of The Godfather trilogy, this meant the shooting schedule was tight and the script itself also had to adhere to this fast pace.

It is well known that Pacino's method based acting was based on recalling the subjective personal experience of the character he played, a skill that itself was a variation on the 'Stanislavsky' method of acting. In Serpico Pacino is wonderfully understated while also offering a vibrancy to his performance in which the charisma and eccentricity of the central character is front and centre. It is almost ironic that he shot this in between the two Mario Puzo based movies as his character is morally certain and yet his passions and belief in this certainty leaves him in an incredibly opaque and dark place as he struggles to reconcile how much subjective goodness has been brought to his life. Unlike Coleone he runs toward his own personal truth and this positive morality perhaps destroys him and leaves him stagnated. Serpico's personal life is destroyed and the script portrays a beautiful sense of intimacy to the women in Serpico's life; Cornelia Sharpe and Barbara Eda-Young bring a wonderful sense of romance, sensuality and fun to the proceedings and their courting scenes with Serpico are beautifully framed.

Serpico ultimately fails with these two women (one, willingly) as he is driven by his work. The movie uncomfortably asks the question of whether or not any human being can embrace a relationship while focused on the part of their life that is elevated and linked to their soul. Ironically Pacino would address this issue later on in his career with Michael Mann's crime opus Heat (1995). Perhaps Michael Mann was embracing the movie iconography of his actor. Here Pacino's definitive wonder is as prevalent as it ever was and his weary cop would be part of his cinematic legacy throughout his career (even the criminally underrated Sea of Love (1989) fits this mantra). It is also ironic that in the opening scenes of Se7en (1995) Gwenyth Paltrow refers to her cop husband as 'Serpico' as his character will eventually be corrupted by immorality in the narrative of that movie.

Sidney Lumet's direction is flawless here. The first scene of an interrupted rape is horrifying and yet Lumet is never hypnotized by the events taken place in front of the camera - he is almost nonchalant about these violent scenes; he simply lets the horror of such events speak with an astounding and harrowing lens. Arthur Ornitz - who is the cinematographer - is a director of photography who lights each scene with a sense of both the idyllic sensibility of the Clairol commercials he shot earlier in his career and the raw, urban landscapes of New York. Although Lumet didn't want New York to be portrayed as ugly as parts of it were at the time, Ornitz took his ideas on board and brought a warmer colour palette to certain scenes. The most beautiful scenes are the ones in which iconic landscapes like the Brooklyn Bridge simply appear in the background without a huge crane or helicopter shot. This is truly breathtaking and is clearly part of the director's approach and yet it also adds a wider canvas to the picture as a whole.

In short, Serpico is quite simply one of the greatest character and crime stories committed to screen in the 20th century. Al Pacino carries the movie with an understated and paradoxical virtuosity and Lumet's direction is wonderful. Serpico is also a masterpiece that should never be forgotten.