Visibly undergoing a transition in techniques from stage to cinema acting, Pacino gradually gains in conviction as the film progresses... But like the rest of the film, he is ultimately hampered as well as served by the dictates of a generalized, sociological authenticity so that he is never allowed to pass beyond the familiar boundaries of an all-too-familiar type, a problem equally limiting to his co-star.
Schatzberg doesn’t romanticize addicts’ troubles; with a tender but unsparing eye, he spins visual variations on shambling degradation and transient relief. His tremulous palette of briskly panning telephoto shots unfolds a city within a city, a second world of experience that shows through New York’s abraded surfaces. The sudden lurch of moods, ranging from bad to worse, is the movie’s very subject.
With Panic, the director showcases his talent for street photography and filming faces and (as I stated in my piece on his third film, Scarecrow), he loves Pacino (this was Pacino’s first starring role, and it’s brilliant). Pacino’s gum smacking, his expressive face, his charm that’s sometimes dumb and sometimes tender, his anger, his guile, his doped-out stupors – it’s all expressed in a performance that’s both touching and maddening.