The Panic in Needle Park

1971

The Panic in Needle Park

Critics Consensus

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85%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 13

75%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 6,325
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Movie Info

A couple loves heroin as much as they love each other in Jerry Schatzberg's grim drug drama. After an illegal abortion at the behest of her faithless lover (Raul Julia), lost innocent Helen (Kitty Winn) finds solace with small-time crook Bobby (Al Pacino), a regular in Manhattan's "Needle Park." As Bobby shows her around his Upper West Side world, the two become inseparable. When Helen realizes that Bobby is a full-blown junkie, she joins him in addiction, and their downward spiral begins in earnest. Weathering overdoses, prostitution, betrayals, and a "panic" after a major bust, the pair manages to stick together, the habit sealing their fate. ~ Lucia Bozzola, Rovi

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Critic Reviews for The Panic in Needle Park

All Critics (13) | Top Critics (4) | Fresh (11) | Rotten (2)

  • Schatzberg doesn't romanticize addicts' troubles; with a tender but unsparing eye, he spins visual variations on shambling degradation and transient relief.

    Mar 5, 2018 | Full Review…
  • A gruelling but highly responsible film about the influence of heroin on a New York street romance.

    Jun 24, 2006 | Full Review…
    Time Out
    Top Critic
  • It is not filled with quick cutting or gimmicky editing, but Jerry Schatzberg's direction is so confident that we cover the ground effortlessly.

    Apr 9, 2005 | Rating: 3.5/4 | Full Review…
  • While it sometimes seems to be spinning its wheels in 70's-era miserablism, it's hard to take your eyes of the central performances, and the truly alarming descent into the ugliness of addiction at its core.

    Jun 4, 2019 | Rating: 3/4 | Full Review…
  • Drug abuse movies can be hard to take, but this compelling drama has a superior screenplay and sensational performances from young Al Pacino and Kitty Winn.

    Sep 6, 2017 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…
  • Bleak and downbeat, this remains a more effective anti-drug PSA than any of Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No" finger-wagging.

    Jul 3, 2016 | Rating: 3/4 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for The Panic in Needle Park

  • Jul 11, 2012
    Al Pacino must be a good actor to get a lead role for his second film, and a really serious one at that, because this love story is hardly "Frankie and Johnny". Actually, come to think of it, this film seems more faithful to the subject matter in the actual song "Frankie and Johnny", because as bleak as this film is, I kept expecting one member of the central couple to kill the other. Well, it's not like we're matching up Alan Alda and Sally Fields here, these people are used to playing dirtbags, or at least being around them, because Pacino went on to be Michael Corleone in "The Godfather" and Kitty Winn went on to hang out with the Godless daughter in "The Exorcist", the only film to feature an iconic character with more scars on her face than Pacino did in "Scarface". Man, you people think that your relationships have baggage, it's not enough that both of our leads in this film are drug addicts, but one person went on to become a violent gangster and the other went on to be tutor of some girl possessed by Satan. I keep overemphasizing the religious aspects behind our leads' filmographies, because I absolutely love this film's tagline: "[u]God[/u] help Bobby and Helen; they're in love in Needle Park". Now that's a tagline that tells you that this film is gonna be pretty messed up, which makes it almost a shame that they didn't pull Jim Morrison from "The Doors" to play Pacino's Bobby role, because if you are looking at the poster and still not quite sure that this film is about serious drug addiction, then Morrison getting top billing would have pretty much set it in stoned-I mean stone. Well, I'm glad they didn't go with Morrison for the role, because although he never got the chance to show off his acting chops, we all know for a fact that Al Pacino can act (Ha-ha, I rhymed), and sure enough, both he and Kitty Winn are shooting up... the place with their acting firepower, yet just like how heroin addiction itself (Kids), great performances as heroin addicts don't really fix problems. While this film isn't exactly considered indie, it's very independent in feel, and indie films of this type are often dryly dull, loosely told and with a lack of assurance in the direction that leaves much resonance to fall limp, and you suffer through much too much of that nowadays, so you can imagine what it was like in 1971. Well, sure enough, this film a dull - nay - often just plain boring one, with as much dryness as a pavement during a sunny Summer afteroon in Texas, falling short on a lot of juice and leaving the film go fall limp, and with editing being loose to where you get more than your fair share of excess nothingness, the pacing slows to a crawl, and yet, there's still too much rushing in the film's should-be very dynamic, yet ultimately glossed over and wildly repetitious storyline, until we finally come down to a cop-out of an ending. That, alone, renders the final product underwhelming, with a story that goes further plagued to the point of near-destruction is, of course, Jerry Schatzberg's unassured direction. Schatzberg is lacking in confidence and experience, and that is made quite palpable through his near-failure at giving the story much exposition, substance and overall punch, the lack of which leaves even the story to fall limp. There's just not enough engagement value in the story, as it goes tainted to no end by Schatzberg's fairly bland and amateur direction that's not prepared for this kind of subtlety, which, to be fair, isn't all that subtle to begin with. I once heard someone describe this film as "a bit 'don't do drugs kids'", and quite frankly, I couldn't have said it better myself, as the film's very been-there-done-that messages go as unsubtlety overemphasized as always, yet because Jerry Schatzberg's direction is so faulty, the film's themes don't even have the upperhand of having that much bite to them, which of course leaves the compellingness of the story to take yet another hard blow, and with this film being so story-driven, it can't afford to have so many marks on its record. Sure, there an aura of charm in the film's being rather amateur, so it could never be bad, though it runs the risk of plummeting into mediocrity, being that its substance is just so messily executed, and the only thing that can save it at this point is an aspect that's just as essential as the story: the acting, which is territory in which this film really accels. The film is very much a character piece, and in those cases, the quality of the performances from our central focuses can make or break the final product, so when you hear that this messy film is built around performers who were barely out of the gate, it's easy to get worried, yet what you're forgetting is that this is Al Pacino and Kitty Winn we're talking about, performers so good (Kitty Winn hadn't done but, like, two things, so mainly, Pacino is standing on the behalf of both himself and Winn) that they were delivering when they were still fresh in the acting industry, and when I say delivering, I mean that these kids really did deliver. Kitty Winn's Helen Reeves character is that old familiar one who had some potential, but squandered it all for sick kicks, yet Winn portrays the familiar character as well as many have, boasting a kind of winning, or rather, Winning (Notice how I capitalized the first letter in "winning" to make it sound like her name; it's a pun, people) and charming innocence to her that really cuts at you and shows you how ruined she is. However, as things unravel, Reeves becomes a darker and less forgivable soul, and as all of the consequences fall upon Reeves at a point much too far in the game for her to turn back, Winn especially delivers with crushing, uneasing emotion, as well as a profound atmosphere that really reflects the depths of Helen Reeves, reflecting her pain, her obsessions, her despicable aspects and her overall destruction, thus making for a powerful lead performance matched only by her co-lead. Al Pacino's Bobby character is one of your more likable punk druggies, who steals, sleazes and taints the lives of his associates almost as much as he taints his own life, yet at the end of the day, he uncovers good-heartedness and noble ambitions that he just doesn't have the will or self-control to fulfill, and it's a role that Pacino plays with firecracker charisma and fittingly ever-dissipating vitality that fits the Bobby character like a glove and really sells you on his more human sides. Still, Bobby is a flawed man, sometimes to the point of becoming darkened, nevertheless, and he eventually descends past charming, fails to live up to his good intentions and ambitions and becomes a broken and sickly man, a layering to the role that Pacino portrays with seamless layers and intense emotion and presence as a disturbed individual. Our leads are destroying themselves and each other, yet that doesn't make their chemistry any less intense, because when the two audacious lead performances marry into chemistry, the relationship feels believable, but in the harshest of ways, and as you go lead through the crushing tale of Bobby and Helen, you'd be hard pressed to not find yourself rather invested. Sure, this film is very much a two-sided kind of drama, relying on both direction and acting, and while the former is so messy that it renders the film an underwhelming borderline bore, the latter holds so much weight that it earns enough of your investment to keep you going with the film, which is ultimately worth the watch, if - no, forget the "if" - decidedly for no other reason than to see Al Pacino's and Kitty Winn's powerful performances that gave the earliest of glimpses at two truly talented performers. Overall, the film is consistently bland, with bone-dry dullness and padding slowing the film's pacing down to an almost glacial state, while conventions, storyline rushing and repetition, as well as the occasional lapse in subtlety throw you off a bit, and for all of this, blame falls primarily upon the uninspired, inexperienced and overall amateur direction by Jerry Schatzberg, who comes up short when it comes to delivering on the directing side of this very intimate drama and leaves the final product to the run the risk of collapse into mediocrity, yet when it comes to the just as essential acting side of the spectrum with this character piece, things get done and get done ever so well, with leads Al Pacino and Kitty Winn delivering soulful, layered and all around engrossingly powerful performances and chemistry that cut deep enough at the heart of the story, through all of Schatzberg's many missteps, to earn your investment and help in making "The Panic in Needle Park" an impressive acting piece and generally watchable drama, even with its near-fatal flaws. 2.5/5 - Fair
    Cameron J Super Reviewer
  • Jun 06, 2012
    This is the film that supposedly threw Al Pacino in the beam of quality actors, and it's no surprise, he is charismatic and richly tragic in his portrayal of the addict Bobby; Kitty Winn's performance is great too. However, unlike other gritty films uncovering the sleaze of society during the 70's such as Midnight Cowboy, Serpico or Taxi Driver, this one does not age well. It feels quite dated but you can see how fresh it must have been for the time.
    Hassan V Super Reviewer
  • Aug 06, 2011
    I loved this movie from start to finish. I could have watched it for hours. I loved the style that Schatzberg uses and it is one of the more realistic drug films I have seen. Al Pacino is phenomenal and it was cool to see a very young Raul Julia and Paul Sorvino. A depressing gem with an amazing ending.
    Tim S Super Reviewer
  • Feb 08, 2011
    Finally, my losing streak ends with a reliable, gritty, amazing film from Pacino and Schatzberg. The real surprise was Kitty Winn. Her performance was great. And the ending to this movie is flawless.
    matt s Super Reviewer

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