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This is a period picture that takes place in 1971, but there are no
references to Vietnam, the flower power movement, Kent State or any other
issues or events of the day. This is because the characters have nothing to
do with that world. Bob's thoughts revolve around drugstores like planets
around the sun. His family of dope thieves lives in almost total isolation.
Even junkies who come to do business are admitted to their home with
reluctance and then rudely sent on their way. Their only contact with the
"other" world is its drugstores and its cops. They live in a world not ruled
by the authorities, but by "the dark forces that lie hidden beneath the
surface, the ones that some people call superstitions: howling banshees,
black cats, hats on beds, dogs, the evil eye..." In his world, Bob's lunatic
logic makes perfect sense and serves him as a guide for living better than
any "sane" worldview.
When the crew goes "crossroading" to the tune of "the Israelites" we realize that they, too, are like children of a different god; wanderers whose only contact with others is hostile confrontation. They are either "attacking" drug stores or being attacked by ball-breaking cops.
Kelly Lynch, who plays Diane, said in an interview that, "The first take was terrible and Matt (Dillon) said he wouldn't support the film." It is not surprising that a film this ambitious should run into some snags. A great film like "DC" is a tightrope act. The best scenes in the film are also the riskiest; they would have fallen apart in the hands of lesser actors.
If you like the film you might get a kick out of the autobiographical novel on which it is based, by James Fogle, the original drugstore cowboy. At the time of the film's release (1989) Fogle had spent "thirty-five of his fifty-three years in prison on drug-related charges." I wonder what ever became of him.
This is easily Gus Van Sant's best movie and contains Matt Dillon's best performance. The other cast members are also terrific, but the part of "Bob" is greatly realized by Dillon and he shines. The movie is difficult to watch at times but you get something out of it to think about when its over. I also must mention a great scene between Lynch, Matt & Matt's mother, played by Grace Zabriskie. To top it all off, this is also Heather Graham's best movie and she delivers as well. A blues soundtrack and beautiful cinematography make this one to remember.
Matt Dillon delivers one of the best performances of his career in Drugstore
Cowboy, a gritty film about the real life of junkies. There is heavy drug
content in this film, but in no way is the drug life glorified. We see the
more realistic life of drugs on the streets, which is probably what makes
this such an aesthetically unpleasing film. No one in the movie looks good,
it has just about as much ugliness as a spectacularly ugly movie like
Buffalo '66, which enhances the realism of the film. Much of the film is
shot in a documentary style, giving it a gritty, realistic feel, almost like
a twisted home movie.
Dillon plays the part of Bob, a young junkie in the early 1970s who goes around with his group of friends breaking into pharmacies and drug stores and stealing random bottles of prescription bottles looking for their next high. The movie starts at the end of the story, with Bob riding in an ambulance and telling us the story of how he got there, but has the pleasing distinction of not leading you exactly to where you knew you were going to be. Even by showing the end of the story there is nothing given away. This is a powerful drug film that doesn't hold anything back. It is not pretty to look at, but also like Buffalo '66, it's hideously unattractive counterpart, the movie has something to say.
I lived in San Francisco all through the 1970's and saw tons of these
kinds of people. They all tended to "group" together for the common
purpose of scoring and getting high on any kind of drugs available, but
the drug of choice always seemed to be heroin. These groups, or small
communes, always tended to have a strong leader who ran the whole show
for the group and issued "orders" like a drill sergeant, but
interestingly, in a very "loving" way. And nobody ever seemed to
question this leader. In fact, HE always seemed to be treated with
complete deference (reverence???) as if HE were some kind of a star.
Everybody in the group seemed to have a specific "job" to do within the
group, and their jobs seemed to define their value to the group and,
hence, their "right" to be there. Except for the fact that they existed
in the general "hippy" milieu of the time, they never showed any signs
of being interested in the presumed hippy world view. I always felt the
groups simply represented highly efficient, small business concerns.
These people were known thieves, drug dealers, and small-time con
artists and, if left alone, they were not considered dangerous. In
fact, they were typically very intelligent and interesting people, but
very closed-off to the world outside their group. Each group was like
its own little cult.
The group portrayed in Drugstore Cowboy would have fit in perfectly with what I remember from that time, except that there were typically more people in the groups than just four. I would say these groups numbered more like six to eight people, certainly enough to occupy a large flat or house in one of the cheap neighborhoods. The fact that the cost of living was so much cheaper back then allowed for this type of lifestyle. And it was only when the real estate boom in San Francisco in the mid-to-late 1970's precluded this type of communal existence (lease applications, leases, personal references, high deposits, etc.) that these "illegal" groups tended to disappear. The ease with which the group in DC moved from one living space to the other would become impossible due to these new economic and social realities (higher rents and stiffer rules). Yes, even in Portland.
Anyway, this movie really resonnated with me and triggered my memories of that time, and I think it's accurate to say that this is truly a "period piece." I'm certain that the DC group could have only existed in the early 1970's, and certainly no later than say 1974-5.
I have no idea why I felt compelled to write all this seeing as how it has very little to do with the movie, which I loved. Thank you!
'Drugstore Cowboy' really knocked my socks off when I first watched it about 12-13 years ago, and it still impresses me every time I view it again. An unsentimental drug movie that doesn't resort to knee jerk moralizing, it is one of the very best movies of the 1980s, and still one of the best movies of its kind (Alison Maclean's underrated 'Jesus' Son' is one of the few recent movies to come close to it). Gus Van Sant looked like he was going to be one of the most exciting directors of the 1990s, but after the excellent 'My Own Private Idaho' it quickly proved not to be so, his career ending up with awful saccharine "uplifting" Hollwood dreck and his misguided remake of 'Psycho' that's best if we pretend never happened. Whatever he went on to make there's no denying that this is one brilliant movie. Matt Dillon gives one of his strongest and most complex performances, and he is backed up by an equally impressive supporting cast of Kelly Lynch (easily her best role), the wonderful James LeGros ('Floundering'), future sex symbol Heather Graham ('Boogie Nights'), and quirky character actor fave Max Perlich ('Truth Or Consequences, NM'). Also keep an eye out for the shoulda-been-a-star James Remar ('The Warriors') and a cameo by the legendary William S. Burroughs as "the Priest". 'Drugstore Cowboy' has energy, humour, depth and honesty. I love it. A wonderful movie and highly recommended.
This movie has much personal meaning to me. In 1990, I had the unfortunate pleasure to be incarcerated at the Northern Nevada Correctional Center in Stewart(Carson City, NV.) Yea, we had cable TV, and first run movies. This was one of them. After viewing the movie, I laughed w/ my co-horts about suing for copy right infringement. (joking, of coarse). My prison stint was drug related. but the interesting thing is: I and my girlfriend at the time made these sames moves:(Seizures and all)at a southwestern state small town where the Dilaudids were actually kept on the shelf.(1981-83)We hit this one pharmacy -3- times(largest haul:470 Dilaudids-1,2,3,and 4mg--Smallest: one bottle of 100 # 4's).I lived in Nevada all my life. I did several small stints in several prisons. In closing. I wanted to write this and note, it was a looong time ago. I have lived in Portland ,OR. now for 19 yrs. And I celebrated my -11- year clean anniversary date last Thurs. (8/28/09). After a medical detox, I hooked up w/ a local methadone prgm. and never looked back. It saved MY and my WIFE's life. Take from this what you will. But it's true and I still get a kick out of this movie and "my story" as it relates w/ it. I rarely tell it often. But I did want to post this message. Thank you for allowing me to express myself...Sincerely, doctom1973......
Drugstore Cowboy takes a look an element of the drug/crime subculture
without glamorising, sensationalising or demonising it. I honestly
can't think of another film on a similar subject that has managed to
pull off this balance so successfully.
We care about the characters, but are completely aware of their (many) flaws. We are shown that drugs are pleasurable, but given a realistic portrayal of the great damage they can do. The crime scenes are exciting but we never lose sight of how risky and sometimes pathetic the crimes are.
This film is moral without moralising and humane without romanticising or sentimentalising the subject. Drugstore Cowboy may lack the visceral punch of a film like Trainspotting, but has a subtlety, depth and heart missing from other more voyeuristic cinematic treatments of drug use.
Matt Dillon igives his best performance in this movie, gives an
minimalistic, sympathetic portrayal of a junk addict trying to go
The subject matter may be a bit dark for those that like to see life from the "sunny side". It is set after all, in gray, gray, Portland Oregon in the 70's. It deals with a crew of four, two couples, that go around ripping off drugstores for opiates. It does not attempt to judge or condemn this behavior, it just tells the story of a group of junkies, and one of their attempts to go clean and find out what the straight life is like.
Those of you that have experience with any form of substance abuse may find that this movie rings true. I loved the quote by Bob something to the effect of: "In life, you never know one minute to the next how you're going to feel. But a dope fiend just has to look at the labels on the bottles." By no means does this movie glamorize drug use. In fact, it shows it for what it is, a temporary fix that leads nowhere but destruction.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Ah yes another movie about drug addicts. This movie is set in the Northwest
US during 1971. It's a story about 4 friends who
are addicts and get their stuff by robbing drugstores. They end up robbing
them not by violent pistol holdups, but by usualy creating diversions while
a friend sneaks behind a pharmacy counter to crack open drawers, or run into
a hospital storage room to bust a cabinet with a crowbar.
The movie has a neat look and a neat story. It has to be the only movie about addicts that I have seen where the characters are neither glamorous nor do they look like they are festering with sores and pains and needle marks. I had to say though I was taken with the film, it has a neat story and has that American Beauty type ending (where the main character finaly makes it to redemption even if it is too late).
But it is a unique film and the movie has a look as if it was truly made in the 70's even though it wasn't. The movie starts off with Dillon being driven away in an ambulance as his voice over tells us about his life, and you feel that you know the story, but you don't as you watch the movie unfold and then realise at the end that the reason he is in the ambulance is not what you think is the obvious answer you thought of at the begining of the film.
Not the the best drug addict movie I have seen (I'd give that to the Canadian film 'H') but a very good film none the less.
Rating 7 1/2 out of 10
This was my introduction to Gus Van Sant, and I still consider it his
best movie. The outstanding feature of Drugstore Cowboy is its
magically non-judgmental portrayal of people living on the fringe of
society. The characters are vividly portrayed, and exceedingly
memorable -- yet it feels effortless to watch this movie, and as though
it has been effortless to make. The *sound* of the movie is
outstanding, giving the action and the story an ethereal sheen.
I have seen the movie three times, but have not watched it in more than four years. And yet, a number of the visual, and auditory, images are still easily retrievable, still vivid. The memories of most movies are simply that for me: memories of movie scenes. In this case, it takes some reasoning to get straight that I was not actually present at the action, and that the memories are not of something from real life.
Remarkable. Highly recommended!
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