One of a cycle of drug addiction films from the early 1970s, including Born to Win and Dusty and Sweets McGee (both 1971), Panic in Needle Park reveals the dark underside of the late '60s drug culture. Rather than explain why Helen and Bobby turn to drugs, the film focuses on relationships ravaged by heroin; the ending may be abrupt but it's clear where they are headed. Panic was shot on location in New York City, with a script by Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne based upon James Mills' reportage about Needle Park, and its atmospheric authenticity extends to excruciating close-ups of junkies laboring to find a good vein. While its grim realism earned accolades, and Winn was awarded Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival, the realism proved too much for the paying public, despite the timely subject matter. Al Pacino's first major film performance, however, convinced Francis Ford Coppola that he was the man for The Godfather (1972). Needle Park, itself, may have since become upscale real estate, but Panic in Needle Park remains a ruthless testament to the fallacy of heroin chic.
by Lucia Bozzola review