The Panic in Needle Park

The Panic in Needle Park ★★★½

It's Al Pacino's 80th birthday, so Keira and I decided to watch one of our few unwatched Pacino films from the 1970s, going for his first ever starring role in a feature film, one that definitely set his career on a legendary trajectory.

Needle Park feels so intensely New Hollywood. Even late 60s stuff like Bonnie and Clyde or Midnight Cowboy isn't this gritty, or trying to be as "real" as Needle Park is. Due to its 1971 release date, I think that makes it really interesting. It's not the earliest wave of New Hollywood classics, but it is ushering in the grit and grime of New York pictures for the rest of the 1970s.

The acting from Pacino and Kitty Winn is excellent, but I do also want to mention the director, Jerry Schatzberg, and one of the writers, Joan Didion. Schatzberg also directed the wonderful Hackman/Pacino road movie Scarecrow, which shares a lot of similarities in tone with Needle Park, though the films tackle different areas and themes. Didion's book Play It As It Lays was adapted into a great film with Tuesday Weld in 1972, and Needle Park and the Play It As It Lays adaptation share a similar listlessness and plotlessness: a feeling of dissatisfaction, impulsivity and numbness permeating the 1970s. It also makes sense that a woman was involved in the writing process, as this truly is the story of both Bobby and Helen: their inability to function without each other and the separate struggles their world forces them into when they part.

Zoë 🐝 liked these reviews