Born to Win (1971)

Genres - Comedy Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Addiction Drama, Black Comedy  |   Run Time - 90 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - R
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No matter what one may think of the films of the early 1970s in terms of their quality, it's hard to argue with the fact that the era produced a staggering number of films that were quite daring in subject matter or style, and such is the case with Born to Win. Like many other of its brethren at the time, Win doesn't totally succeed as a film, but it's an incredible microcosmic look at a particular place in a particular time. Rarely has the city of New York -- or rather, a segment of the city of New York -- been captured so completely, a fact that is all the more surprising given that the director who captured it, Ivan Passer, was newly arrived from Czechoslovakia. Passer can't get the film as a whole to work the way he wants it, but he brings an outsider's eye to the film and thus is able to catch the details and the nuances that those used to living in and observing the City would miss. Had Passer been able to pull off the very difficult tone of the piece -- a black comedy about serious drug addiction -- Win might have been an incredible cinematic experience. As it is, it meanders too much and it too often doesn't make the punches it wants to, and it definitely doesn't combine the comedy and the drama seamlessly. But there are extraordinary moments, such as Karen Black's exhortation to George Segal as she returns him to New York to get a fix, that burn themselves into the memory. And Segal's desperation when he's naked and awaiting word of his fate provides a marvelously funny sequence. Segal and Black are excellent throughout, and there's also a small bit by a young Robert De Niro, which is interesting mostly for historic reasons.