Starring: Al Pacino; Kitty Winn
Director: Jerry Schatzberg
Rated: R (18+)
Fans of Al Pacino will relish the opportunity to see the actor cutting a swathe across the screen in his first leading role as Bobby, a New York junkie working the intersection between Broadway and 72nd Street. This is the location of Sherman Square, or Needle Park as it was dubbed in honour of all the heroin addicts who used to hang out there. For Bobby, who’s been in trouble with the cops since he was nine, it’s the only home turf he knows and he pounds the pavements like a trooper.
We’re introduced to him doing a deal in a nearby apartment owned by the artist Marco, played by Raul Julia in an early cameo. Recovering on the coach from a dodgy abortion is his girlfriend Helen (Kitty Winn), a softly spoken, sweet, young thing who Bobby moves in on and takes under his wing. Sure enough, she’s soon shooting up too and working as a hooker to finance both of their habits.
The story is based on a novel by James Mills about the effect of a panic, or chronic shortage of heroin, in town, and was adapted for the screen by the husband and wife team of Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne. Former photographer Jerry Schatzberg took the helm as director, opting for a naturalistic, almost documentary style to expose the grimy world of smack users and he doesn’t spare us the harsh reality of dirty needles being pushed deep into bruised veins. But what rises above all this ugliness is the love between Helen and Bobby. While their lives become focused in on getting the next hit, there’s a stronger force at work that may just be keeping them alive.
Needless to say, Pacino is fantastic as Bobby; perky and loving one minute then nodding off stoned off his face the next. And Kitty Winn is haunting too. She won Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival in 1971 for her subtle and touching performance and the film itself was nominated for the Palm D’Or. While heroin movies may not be everyone’s cup of tea, they reveal a world of lost souls that continue to inhabit our society today.