Saturday 24 June 2023

Movie Review: The Panic In Needle Park (1971)

Genre: Addiction Drama
Director: Jerry Schatzberg
Starring: Al Pacino, Kitty Winn
Running Time: 110 minutes

Synopsis: In New York City, street-level drug dealer and heroin user Bobby (Al Pacino) befriends aspiring artist Helen (Kitty Winn). She is drawn into his orbit, they become lovers, and she starts using heroin. Always strapped for cash, they hang-out with other addicts as Sherman Square (nicknamed "Needle Park"). Bobby's petty crimes finance their drugs, but when he is imprisoned, Helen resorts to prostitution.

What Works Well: This is a gritty and clear-eyed look at the miserable lives of addicts on the way to the bottom. Director Jerry Schatzberg spares no details from New York's grubbiest corners: needles in arms, filthy apartments, and overdoses are all portrayed with stark honesty. In his first leading role, Al Pacino brings a soulless yet charming intensity to Bobby, descending from casual user to desperate and delusional addict obsessed with scrounging a few dollars for the next hit. Kitty Winn's Helen traces a tragic downward spiral from middle class artist to scuzzy hooker. Raul Julia and Paul Sorvino appear in early roles.

What Does Not Work As Well: Bobby and Helen's episodes form beads on a thread rather than a traditional plot, and the cacophonic soundtrack featuring the city's traffic and construction noise is quickly annoying.

Conclusion: Not exactly entertaining, but grim and essential.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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