This movie is a stark portrayal of life among a group of heroin addicts who hang out in "Needle Park" in New York City. Played against this setting is a low-key love story between Bobby, a young addict and small-time hustler, and Helen, a homeless girl who finds in her relationship with Bobby the stability she craves. She becomes addicted too, and life goes downhill for them both as their addiction deepens, eventually leading to a series of betrayals. But, in spite of it all, the relationship between Bobby and Helen endures.Written by
E. Schofield <email@example.com>
So I was scrolling through a Borders outside of London one day, looking at all the expensive R2 DVDs I didn't have enough money for, when I spotted a movie I had never even heard of starring Al Pacino - "The Panic in Needle Park." It had the same front cover (style-wise) as "Scarface," which was an obvious marketing ploy. It had a quote from Francis Ford Coppola, which claimed he chose Pacino for "The Godfather" after seeing the film and screening it to Paramount execs.
It had piqued my interest and it was only five pounds (roughly ten dollars) so I thought, "Why not? If it's awful it's still only five pounds." I bought it, went home later that night and watched it.
I was blown away because it was easily one of the more interesting character studies I'd ever seen. It's got unlikable characters, for sure, but there's still a connection to them which allowed me, at least, to relate to their struggles. (And no, I don't use heroin.) The film stars Al Pacino in one of his very first roles as a heroin addict living in New York City, an era dubbed "Needle Park," where all the junkies hang out. (I believe I saw the exact same park in another drug movie released the same year, called "Born to Win," starring George Segal and Robert De Niro.) Pacino gets a girlfriend and gets her hooked on heroin. Essentially the film just examines her downfall from prosperity to hellish misfortune - they both live for their next hit.
The movie is unflinching. It's raw, brutal, and uneasy. (I recall reading they actually hired heroin addicts for the "shoot-up" scenes, something that would never be allowed today.) I can understand how some people might be put off by the slow pace of the movie and say, "How can I be expected to enjoy a movie with such vile characters?" However, I thought it was handled well - it's on the verge of exploitation sometimes (primarily the scenes which show the junkies shooting up) but for the most part manages to walk a careful line between exploitation and study.
Pacino's performance is one of his best ever, which is a shame because he never receives credit for it. It's one of the only roles where he isn't in control and although he does yell a few times, for the most part he's more calm and subdued - Michael Corleone as a drug addict.
"The Panic in Needle Park" is a great, underrated film and I highly recommend it to anyone who thinks they can handle the content. It's not a rewarding experience in the typical sense but after spending two hours with miserable heroin addicts, it will make you feel better about your own lifestyle.
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