The Panic in Needle Park (1971)
Directed by Jerry Schatzberg
Starring: Al Pacino, Kitty Winn
Jerry Schatzberg was one of the first directors to tap into the talents of Al Pacino. This 1971 film gave Pacino his first major role and helped to launch his career. Pacino starred opposite Kitty Winn (The Exorcist), also new to films at the time. Pacino would later work with Schatzberg and actor Gene Hackman on the 1973 film Scarecrow. Writers Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne worked together on this screenplay and even considered The Doors singer, Jim Morrison, for the lead role.
Helen (Winn) is a young woman looking for some kind of adventure when she meets Bobby (Pacino), an energetic young man. Bobby is a heroin addict and a hustler, soon he has introduced Helen into his world of drug addiction. Now the two struggle with the pitfalls of addiction and the crime that comes with it. They’re surrounded by people who will do anything to take advantage of them. Their love affair could ruin both their lives if they continue to live in Needle Park.
In the world of movies about drug abuse, this movie is one of the really gritty ones. It doesn’t have the visual drama of Requiem for a Dream or the massive cast like Traffic. What this movie does have is a realistic portrayal of the grimy world that heroin addiction is a part of. The movie sometimes feels like a documentary thanks to the great locations chosen to shoot at.
This movie features some really good acting from two young stars. Winn and Pacino have great chemistry on-screen, and they individually bring their characters to life with skill. The true star of the movie is Pacino. He showcases some of the energy and emotion that would lead him to becoming one of the premier names in Hollywood.
This isn’t a movie for everyone. Don’t let the PG rating fool you. This should probably have been PG-13. The story is depressing and rough. The story deals with drug abuse and the prostitution and other crimes that go along with it. I would recommend this one for people who like gritty movies. It’s rough around the edges and there are some flaws, but it was still very interesting. I give this one 3.5 out of 5 stars.