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like a headache after smoking a stale cigarette...
on 13 October 2007
Before watching "The Panic in Needle Park" I had lots of lofty expectations due to at least two reasons: First, this is Al Pacino's first feature length film and his performance as an appealing but self-absorbed addict took Coppola's interest and elevated him "Godfather" stardom. "Panic" gave him enough chance to show his charisma, talent and depth as an actor. Second, being a controversial film in its day, this was the first time that an "urban addiction drama" hit the screen. In this sense, "Panic" can be seen as a precursor, or a perfect template later used by more flamboyant, graphic-intensive pictures like "Drugstore Cowboy", "Trainspotting", "Requiem for a Dream" and even "Gia".
The film focuses on the ups and downs of two doomed souls, Bobby and Helen, who wasted their lives in a downward spiral into hell without any realistic thought for tomorrow. The meaning of life is just to score, shoot, and survive, nothing more. The performances of Al Pacino and Kitty Winn are top notch. The role earned Winn the Best Actress Award at the 1971 Cannes Film Festival. But contrary to strong individual performances, I found the romantic chemistry between them weak.
"Panic" has a bittersweet taste of an independent film: improvisational, free-form and razor-sharp realistic. There is no music throughout the film, only dialogues and real life sounds. It tastes like a stale cigarette. Depressive mood and sordidness of Manhattan's Upper West Side are reflected perfectly. Intense and disturbing depiction of heroine shots are almost documentary nature. Thankfully, there are no Hollywood sappiness to undermine the film's effectiveness. Schatzberg did a good job by not cuing viewer's moods, just letting the picture tell the story. The only downside is that it drags along at snails pace, sometimes it bored me a little and some scenes need trimming. The result is that some scenes feel largely extraneous, contributing not very much to the story.
To sum up, although it introduced us Al Pacino, it's moderately worthwhile and falls short of being a classic. Normally the film deserves 3.5 stars, but due to the shoddy nature of the DVD, I'm giving 3 stars.