Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB
USA, 1971. Gadd Productions Corp., Didion-Dunne. Screenplay by Joan Didion, John Gregory Dunne, based on the book by James Mills. Cinematography by Adam Holender. Produced by Dominick Dunne. Production Design by Murray P. Stern. Costume Design by Jo Ynocencio. Film Editing by Evan A. Lottman.
A film about heroine addicts doesn’t sound like a pleasant experience and, for the most part this movie is no walk in any park, but it is surprisingly tender in its portrayal of a love story at the centre of its destructive subject matter. Kitty Winn, who deservedly took the Best Actress prize at the Cannes Film Festival, falls in love with street tough Al Pacino (in his first lead role) and comes to share his heroine addiction, the two of them setting up in an apartment in Sherman Square (aka, at the time, “Needle Park” for its high concentration of addicts) and beginning a downward spiral into tragedy. At first, their drug-taking is one of the many intimacies they share, but before long she is turning tricks on the streets and he begins dealing, which has him popping in and out of trouble with the law while their communication with each other becomes more abusive. Director Jerry Schatzberg glamourizes nothing and there’s no sense that Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne’s script (based on the novel by James Mills) is condoning anything we see, but they accomplish the impressive feat of presenting their characters in the harshest light of honesty (including some very unpleasant close-ups of needles in veins) while never letting us lose touch with their sympathetic vulnerability. The sexy chemistry between the leads helps keep us invested in their relationship and makes the plot feel invisible, we barely notice the progression towards doom that slowly unfolds in a series of scenes that feel improvised and unforced.
Cannes Film Festival Award: Best Actress (Kitty Winn)