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USA 1971
Directed by
Jerry Schatzberg
110 minutes
Rated R

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

The Panic In Needle Park

For the most part The Panic in Needle Park works as a realist portrait of the lives of heroin addicts, the title referring to a hangout for junkies around New York City's Sherman Square on 72nd Street and Broadway, the panic being what they experience when the dope dries up.

Somewhat ironically, given that it is the reason most people would watch it today, the weakest link is Al Pacino in his first starring role as a drug addict and petty criminal, Bobby (Raul Julia also makes his screen debut). Whereas the rest of the cast come across as quite credible Pacino plays his part with too much Method School panache not to seem out of place, al though this no doubt was not so apparent in its day when the film would have been seen as quite edgy stuff. One need not say the same about Kitty Winn who deservedly won the Palme D'Or at the 1971 Cannes Film Festival for her completely convincing performance as Helen, Bobby’s naïve girlfriend (Winn had another headlining role as Sharon in The Exorcist in 1973 but that was as good as it got for her and she retired from film-making in 1980)

Based on a Life magazine story and, later, a book by reporter James Mills the film is a quite candid account of the squalid lives of junkies. This by and large makes it a quite difficult film to watch as these people live tawdrily vacant lives oblivious to anything beyond their addiction, the screenplay by Joan Didion being able to wrest nothing of real interest out of them, the doomed romance of Bobby and Helen, notwithstanding. The Panic in Needle Park is nevertheless a commendable addition to the drug film catalogue for those given to such things.

DVD Extras: Theatrical Trailer

Available from: Shock Entertainment




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