Drugstore Cowboy (1989) (R)

There's nothing terribly original or amazing about Gus Van Sant's "Drugstore Cowboy". The sub genre of drug flicks would later be completely fleshed out in works like "Trainspotting" and "Requiem for a Dream"—these both have their genesis in something like "The Lost Weekend"; but "Drugstore Cowboy takes an almost nonchalant approach to drugs and that is something that I find admirable.
This isn't a movie made to preach, just like Bob (Matt Dillon) isn't a preacher. At one point in the movie, he's asked why he doesn't become a counselor and try to help struggling addicts. His response is that a drug addict will not be talked out of their next hit, their next high. You can't reason with them, it's something they have to come to on their own terms. I feel like this sums up exactly what Gus Van Sant had in mind.
The movie begins with Bob introducing is to the rest of his crew. There's his wife, Dianne (Kelly Lynch), his friend Rick (James Le Gros) and then Rick's girl Nadine (Heather Graham). Nadine is the odd woman out, the one who everyone keeps at arm's length because she's new and she seems unpredictable. The rest of them, this trio that is, have one thing in common: they love dope. It's their holiest of holies and Bob acknowledges this much to us, the audience.
All of "Drugstore Cowboy" acts as a flashback with Bob as our set narrator. He's really dry, almost to the point where it rings true of Scorsese's "Goodfellas" but with a little less jazz.
Gus Van Sant likes to pull out all the stops, and for this, we have a little crazy going a long way. Van Sant milks each possible second of his film for every amount of drug induced weirdness he can, which unfortunately, isn't that much.
"Drugstore Cowboy" is making a stance. It's not saying that the drug turns you into an ideal of yourself as "Trainspotting" did, not is it saying that drug use is the rape of the human body, as we see in "Requiem for a Dream"; but instead, we see druggies as junkies...people who like to use dope. There's this air about the movie that is much like a shrug of the shoulders. Who cares? They use drugs. Now let's move on. I really appreciate this, but it's also Van Sant's downfall.
Because the movie is so interested in character rather than stereotype of a character, you really have to nail your actors down and here Matt Dillon isn't convincing enough to pull off the lead. He's charming, good-looking, but dull and flat. His co-stars, including the fairly wild Kelly Lynch show him up in every scene. He's not Keanu Reeves bad, but he certainly doesn't hold a movie like this up on his own.
Van Sant's brand of curious sexual meditations are here, but play such a muted role in this movie as compared to his others. Here we see a director started to experiment a little. It's a work like this that would bring around something far more experimental like "My Own Private Idaho".
Alas, Dillon is no River Phoenix.
Besides the problem of the lead actor, "Drugstore Cowboy" is fairly low of plot and manages to not feel ever surprising. Van Sant is not master of third act twists, so naturally there are all the cards you need to see the end far before you get there. But that really doesn't matter. The surreal mixes with the realism and soon you find that "Drugstore Cowboy" has an unnatural charm to it.
It shouldn't work because it has a lot of things going against it, including its odd humor. Still, Van Sant is powerful and in the end, it wraps up nicely for a good narrative.
It's very structured and very safe; but that also helps make it good.

Score: ★★★

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