“I’m not hooked — I’m just chippin’.”
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
… Panic… is NOT for the faint-of-heart: it’s the type of film that makes drug use seem so utterly unappealing (users loll around in listless states of wastedness) that it’s slightly difficult to understand why even a lost waif like Winn would choose to enter into this world.
(Of course, we’re made to believe that it’s Pacino’s charisma — and her desperate need for love and acceptance — that propels her, but still…). Regardless, Schatzberg should be commended for his no-holds-barred approach to this milieu — including an effective, oft-imitated (viz: 2007’s American Gangster), entirely silent scene in which Pacino witnesses a small team of workers preparing the drug for sale. At the time of the film’s release, this kind of thing must have been utterly revelatory for audiences.
Panic… is also remembered today for Al Pacino’s standout performance — his first leading role on-screen, and the catalyst for his casting the following year in Coppola’s The Godfather. He’s a bundle of hopped-up energy here, literally sweeping Winn off her feet in the opening scenes (as she’s recovering from an illegal abortion):
… and somehow charismatic enough to convince Winn that his cadre of drug-injecting losers is a worthy gang to hang with. Inevitably, of course, Winn (whose career infamously never really went anywhere after her auspicious debut here; she chose family life instead) is caught up in the insanity of addiction herself — and, as expected, things simply go downhill from there. So many films (both fiction and documentary) about the pathetic lives of drug users have been released since Panic… that today’s viewers will likely not be shocked by what they’re seeing on-screen — but it remains a worthy early entry in the genre, one film fanatics should expose themselves to once (and then can feel free to leave behind forever, as I will).
Redeeming Qualities and Moments: