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DOC NYC Review: 'Patrolman P' a Fascinating Justice Saga Made of Gray Areas

Photo of John Anderson By John Anderson | Thompson on Hollywood November 16, 2013 at 7:08PM

That it’s the dawn of “De Blasio Time” in New York City probably won’t be making the NYPD very happy. Neither will Ido Mizrahy’s “Patrolman P,” a film premiering at DOC NYC which will inevitably be pegged as a kind of anti-“Serpico” story of police corruption, and also happens to be a movie ripe for the grand old dramatic feature remake.
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"Patrolman P"
"Patrolman P"

That it’s the dawn of “De Blasio Time” in New York City probably won’t be making the NYPD very happy. Neither will Ido Mizrahy’s “Patrolman P,” a film premiering November 16 at DOC NYC  which will inevitably be pegged as a kind of anti-“Serpico” story of police corruption, and also happens to be a movie ripe for the grand old dramatic feature remake.

The core question -- Who would be the hero? Ido Mizrahy, the director of the archival-heavy “Patrolman P,” has a protagonist on his hands who’s considerably less than a paragon of virtue. William Phillips, who appeared before the Knapp Commission of the ‘70s (the same body that heard Frank Serpico’s testimony) was pressed into wearing a wire and ratting out his dirty colleagues after he was busted taking bribes -- from, among others, Xaviera Hollander, the celebrated “Happy Hooker” (who appears in the doc). Phillips was no Serpico, whose near-fatal shooting during a botched drug raid has always cast suspicion on his brothers in blue. 

Phillips’ “payback” came when he was charged with the murder of a pimp and a prostitute and the shooting of a customer who later testified against him, and whose account is called into serious question by “Patrolman P.”

When Mizrahy catches up to him, Phillips has served more than 30 years in prison, and what ensues is not the kind of cut-and-dried justice saga Hollywood usually likes. But it’s precisely the gray areas of Mizrahy’s movie, and Phillips story, that would make a fascinating feature.

And oh yeah, BTW, the doc’s not bad either: Although Mizrahy’s narration lacks a certain sparkle, the archival footage of what is now Old New York -- the ‘70s era of a burning Bronx, garbage strikes and John V. Lindsay -- is fascinating. So is Phillips, whose persona ranges from righteous victim to pragmatic operator to sleazy operator, one whom even Mizrahy develops a few doubts about.

This article is related to: Reviews, Reviews, Documentary, Documentaries


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.