The Panic In Needle Park Review
Most people regard the 1971 drug tale The Panic In Needle Park as an excellent, raw indication of the potential Al Pacino showed in his pre-Godfather days. However, in some respects, Pacino has unfairly stolen the show from the film's director Jerry Schatzberg and the lead Actress Kitty Winn, who both deserve tremendous acclaim for the efforts.
The Panic In Needle Park houses a simple storyline of love told amidst the perils of New York City's junkie culture. Heroin addict loser Bobby (Pacino) becomes attached to clean and innocent Helen (Winn) and soon she is drawn to his charismatic if down-and-out existence. After Helen is inevitably hooked on heroin, the pair strive to keep their romance intact whilst crime, prostitution and panic infiltrate their lives on a daily basis.
For a film over thirty years old, The Panic In Needle Park still manages to pack a strong, dramatic punch that leaves a foul taste in one's mouth. On the one hand it's shot with a gritty, docudrama approach that often resembles early-seventies' television serials, and yet it simultaneously feels like a hazy voyage into slow, grim decay. The editing by Evan Lottman is extremely tight, shedding any establishing or lingering shots, as if many scenes deliberately lack context or cohesion, almost resembling the blur that has sucked in the two junkie lovers in question. The directing by Schatzberg is rapidly-paced, but is still drenched in a slow and painful demeanour.
Many Pacino fans will be slightly disorientated by the notion that his character Bobby is not the major dramatic focus of the film. The Panic In Needle Park isn't about Bobby's junkie exploits nor the 'needle park' in question that is Sherman Square, but is actual a focus on how a nice, clean woman such as Helen can be sucked quickly into depravity without almost any escape. Winn's performance as Helen is brutally unflinching, baring her interior and exterior hand-in-hand. She acts purely through her facial glances and grimaces, and truly deserved her Cannes award for Best Actress of 1971. Ultimately, it's unfortunate that Winn's career was limited to only a handful of roles. Pacino to his credit is very likeable as Bobby despite his character's obvious misgivings. He employs a directness to Bobby that presents the character in an instant fashion, and his over-energetic delivery often helps the film overbear the audience.
Fully exploiting the urban New York locales, Schatzberg delivers a minor classic of early-seventies' cinema. He never renders any of the characters or sequences using stereotypical devices, and is refreshingly non-judgmental about the graphic images that are portrayed on screen. There is neither condemnation nor pity that pours through the lens, and we the audience understand the plight of Helen and Bobby just so much as we understand the quest of police officer Hotch (Alan Vint), who seems intent on crushing the major drugs barons of the city.
The Panic In Needle Park is a forceful and startling film that deserves a strong cult following, and is thankfully a film that deals responsibly with drug themes without being a pretentious counter-culture odyssey. Whilst Pacino certainly owes the film a heavy debt, Kitty Winn and Jerry Schatzberg deserve equal credit, and their eventual fading into obscurity is as big a shame as Helen and Bobby's slow degradation.
Presented in what appears to be a fullscreen, unmatted transfer, the visual quality of The Panic In Needle Park is very watchable, with occasionally slight artefacts, digital blurring and print defects noticeable. Colours are surprisingly vibrant, with grain levels kept to an acceptable level. Whilst not a sterling transfer, the picture is still strong enough to not prove detrimental.
The packaging claims the audio to be presented in stereo, but the sound track is in fact merely two-track mono, and is a fine mix that contains clear dialogue and atmospheric background sound events. New musical score is contained in the film, which only adds to the documentary feel.
A silent and static menu design that mimics the front cover design artwork.
Presented in a single amaray casing with no inserts and no chapter listings.
Hollywood Remembers Al Pacino (27 Mins)
This is a cheaply produced documentary that skims the surface of the career highlights of Al Pacino, providing clips of many of his films. Annoyingly, no interviews with Pacino are included, and despite the near half-hour running time this documentary is unfortunately strictly low-grade quality.
Trailer (3 Mins)
The trailer for the film is presented, and is edited cleverly to give the film a dramatic love story angle played out over a drug-fuelled battlefield. Be warned that the trailer presents some of the film's revealing sequences.
The Panic In Needle Park is an excellent film dealing with the almost headlong battle of love versus addiction. It's presented on a very, very cheap DVD that has average qualities, but governed by price factors it's very hard to not recommend a purchase.