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.