Director: Jerry Schatzberg
Writers: Joan Didion and Gregory Dunne
Starring: Al Pacino, Kitty Winn
Four stars out of five
This tough look at young heroin addicts on the Upper West Side of New York made Pacino a star before he did The Godfather the following year. The story goes that the studio did not want Pacino to be Michael Corleone, then they saw him in this movie. Unfortunately ”“ and inexplicably ”“ the film did not do a great deal for Kitty Winn, who gives a very powerful and sympathetic performance as Pacino’s accomplice/girlfriend.
The film is shot in a realist, pseudo-documentary style in rundown apartments and on the streets of New York City, which in the early seventies had a distinctive seediness that I recall ”“ non-fondly but quite well ”“ from occasional visits. The film traces the couple’s lives from their chance meeting through their heroin usage, the crimes they commit to support their addictions, and their interactions with the criminal justice system.
Pacino’s character is a rather unsympathetic street punk, but the sweetness and vulnerability of Kitty Winn’s character are quite moving. Her performance is stunning ”“ among the finest female performances I can think of. And there are many fine performances from the performers who play junkies, dealers, prostitutes, and cops. Smaller roles for Raul Julia, Paul Sorvino, Richard Bright (Al Neri in all three Godfather films), and Alan Vint.
Very sobering. The tagline is “In the dark corner of the city, they found light” is studio nonsense that has nothing to do with the film. The characters only find other junkies, cops, hookers, betrayals, and their next fixes. You won’t want popcorn with this film. You might need some methadone, though.
~ Â©2011 Brian M. Downing
Brian M. Downing is the author of several works of political and military history, including The Military Revolution and Political Change and The Paths of Glory: War and Social Change in America from the Great War to Vietnam.Â He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.