Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Movie: The Panic in Needle Park

Although I haven't talked much about it, I still watch a fair number of movies. Tonight I watched The Panic in Needle Park, a 1971 movie starring Kitty Winn as Helen and Al Pacino in his first major role as Bobby.

Bobby is a small-time hustler and heroin addict living around "Needle Park" an area in New York City around Broadway and 72nd St. He visits a friend and first meets Helen while visiting a friend as she recovers from an illegal abortion there. Later, when Helen checks into the hospital, Bobby comes to see her. She's homeless now and stays with him. In another place and time this would be the beginning of a wonderful relationship but here it's the beginning of a downward spiral for both of them.

Soon enough, Helen picks up Bobby's heroin addiction and the two of them move from place to place she prostitutes herself and they deal drugs to support their habits. Eventually she's arrested and rats on Bobby to in order to avoid jail herself. At the end of the film she picks him up from jail and they walk away. It's a sad and predictable story and while I've seen what seems like a kabillion movies of this type, this one was very powerful.

Part of the film's power is that it is 40 years old and could practically have taken place today. It seems that couples who share drug addictions always follow the same path: love and happiness in the early, idyllic days followed by desperation for the drug over anything, including the other person. That craving becomes the focus of the relationship.

This film is also shot in a realistic documentary style. There is no soundtrack or music used in the film and the entire film is shot on location on the dirty streets and grimy diners of the area, with actors that wore no makeup and looked dirty and worn-down when they couldn't get any heroin and a face-rubbing, eyes-closed, dopey mess when they could get it. The scenes where the baby cries while people are scoring drugs

Of course what makes this film great - as great as Trainspotting or Requiem for a Dream  - is Al Pacino's performance. He really sold the small-time drug addict hustler role with the rages and cravings and hustler ways. He and Kitty Winn really sell the love between their characters - the love that binds them through everything. Without him, this film would still be good; with him, it's great. If you have a chance to see it, take that chance; it's well worth your time.

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