The Panic in Needle Park

This 1971 drama follows a group of heroin addicts in New York City’s “Needle Park”, and features the first starring role by a certain Al Pacino.


A candid representation of an urban underbelly seldom seen on screen, the film depicts the lives of junkies, criminals and lowlifes with a gritty authenticity. The content is similar to the epochal Trainspotting, but instead of Danny Boyle’s hyper-stylised surrealism, Jerry Schatzberg’s film feels raw and pure like heroin. There’s no music or exaggeration, and the vein-piercingly realistic scenes of drug-taking got the movie banned in the UK for three years, for no good reason. Understandably grim throughout, the film is quite clearly anti-heroin, going to painful lengths to show the devastating effect of the drug on people’s lives and relationships.

It relentlessly jabs home its message and keeps on jabbing, and cutting half an hour would lose none of the film’s impact. Nevertheless, this is a powerful film about addiction, and a piercing shot of social realism. It treats its deadbeat characters with respect, and a fraught romance prevails between the two leads. Kitty Winn is convincing, but she can’t help but be outacted by the electric Pacino. They’re like Frankie and Johnny on heroin. Or if Scarface had been too high to leave his bedsit.

One response to “The Panic in Needle Park

  1. Pingback: The Basketball Diaries | Screen Goblin·

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