Panic in Needle Park
Dark, gritty and brooding are terms that get bandied around a lot these days. It seems like every time a big studio wants to reboot their favorite IP one of those three words is always used in the twenty five word elevator pitch.
The Panic in Needle Park is all three of those things, with none of the franchise baggage. The film is directed by Jerry Schatzberg and starring an incredibly young Al Pacino. It chronicles the downward spiral of two heroin users in the early 70’s.
The film’s bleak aesthetic is punctuated by the utterly charismatic Pacino. It’s easy to see why Schatzberg cast him in the roll. Getting the audience to relate to a genuinely despicable character is quite difficult, but Schatzberg succeeds masterfully.
In some ways watching the film is like starting a relationship with these people. In the beginning you’re utterly enthralled by Pacino. You really understand why Helen, played by Kitty Winn, falls for him. He’s impish. Charming. He’s Peter Pan. As the film progresses you start bargaining with yourself. You have an internal monologue about the moral repercussions of what Pacino’s Bobby does. You find yourself almost understanding why Helen stays in an abusive, drug addled, and utterly negative relationship. She, much like you, see the person Bobby was before all the drugs.
The shear beauty of the mechanical elements of the storytelling in Panic in Needle Park is a wonder to behold. There’s no fat on the bones. It’s all just meat. There’s not extraneous information provided.
The film is jaw dropping in its dead ahead take on the realities of drug addiction. There’s no artifice or censorship. Everything in the film is as close to reality as it could be. So much so that there are urban legend about extras actually shooting up heroin on film.
Needless to say, The Panic in Needle Park is a masterfully executed film. Seeking it out would be advantageous.