Drugstore Cowboy

Without a doubt, Drugstore Cowboy is near
the top of the pack of the anti-hero drama.

The American movie audience has for a long time held a fascination for movies that portray people living on the wrong side of the law. The type of film that became popular in the fifties with the anti-hero. The protagonist of these films are very flawed individuals, people that as we watch we thank God that we do not live that way, yet we are drawn to watch perhaps with a part of us wondering about the outlaw life. Many cinematic classics belong to this genre, Bonnie and Clyde, Midnight Cowboy to name just two.

Without a doubt, Drugstore Cowboy is near the top of the pack of the anti-hero drama. The Drugstore Cowboy film chronicles the existence of four drug addicts. There is Bob (Matt Dillon), the narrator and leader of the gang. He knows that drugs will eventually kill him bt he is unable to stop. Then there is Bob’s wife, Diane (Kelly Lynch). She loves Bob as he loves her but they both love dope more. Assisting Bob is Rick (James Le Gros) and his young girlfriend Nadine (Heather Graham). They need the drugs but lack the intellectual capacity or incentive to execute the crimes needed to support their habits on their own. They look to Bob for leadership, a perverse father figure that holds the motley crew together.

Drugstore Cowboy meanders through scene after scene almost lacking focus. While this is normally something that detracts from a film, here it is perfect. It captures the aimless existence this lost band endures. All aspects of life are sublimated to serve the master drugs have become. Diane is every upset that her husband prefers shooting up to any type of sexual relationship. Drugstore Cowboy is not for the faint of hart. The scenes of them using their drugs are graphically realistic and detailed. One can only wonder that if they directed the energy and imagination used to pull of their constant heists of drugstores to a real job how successful they would be.

Bob has become such a pariah that even his own mother exhibits great trepidation in allowing him into her home. He loves her son but knows full well that he will steal anything of value to feed his habit. Bob may be a drug fiend but he realizes that he is out of control and wants to seek a drug treatment program. Still, his native intelligence is overwhelmed but the insatiable need for a high. The four addicts form a family, albeit a dysfunctional one. This family feel to the crew gives the film a very poignant quality. One that permits an audience that has never been in their situation to identify on some deep-rooted emotional level. Little touches like when Diane speaks to the others about when her beloved little dog ran away during a drug bust. Deep down inside these young people who serve the relentless master of drugs, there are human beings.

You cannot have imagined a better cast for Drugstore Cowboy. Dillon may have had a career with some less than notable choices but this film stands as a testament to his acting talent. The ability to show Bob as a character dominated by drug abuse yet one that is a fully developed person is incredible. Each scene demonstrates a different side of Bob. There is the planner, a man that enjoys golf, a superstitious man all held in a man obsessed with his next score. Lynch adds similar realism to her role as Diane. Needing normal marital relationships more than just for sex, she needs that human connection with the man she loves. It is required to keep her in touch with one of the few aspects of her life that is in any way normal. When her husband rejects her sexually he is rejecting her last vestige of humanity.

Le Gros could have come across as mere filler. Instead he adds to the mix by creating contrast with the skillful Bob. Rick is a person that needs to hang on to others. He cannot even succeed as a drug addict without the help of another. Graham provides a doe eyed innocence to the group. The production of Drugstore Cowboy was postponed until Graham’s 18th birthday since her parents objected to it and she had to be of age to sign up on her own. The wait was worth it. She is the woman child that drives home the point that even nice girls can fall into the trap of drugs. She is your daughter or sister that you remember growing up who is no a full out junkie.

Directing this masterpiece is Gus Van Sant. While he received a lot of criticism for his scene-by-scene rip off, er, remake of Psycho, here is the pinnacle or creativity. This is among his best work ever. The style he uses is basically divided into two categories. The first is when the crew is not high. Here the camera angles and lighting depict a harsh reality. The clarity of the shots reflecting the drive they have to achieve their goal. The scenes that depict their drug experience is a whole different style. Objects float through the scene unattached to reality. The colors brighten only to fade without warning. Van Saint is in top form here, taking us through the cycle of highs and lows the characters live. Even if you are not interested in the subject matter you will admire the talent that gathered to create Drugstore Cowboy.

The Drugstore Cowboy disc is excellent especially for an older film. While the audio is only two channels Dolby, it gets the job done. It is clear and to the point. The sound track never overwhelms the dialogue but serves the purpose of creating and sustaining mood. The video is anamorphic 1,85:1. While there are some scratches present they are few and far between. For the most part the picture is wonderfully clear. For extras there are only a few. There is a production featurette and a commentary by the director. Both are worth the time and add to your understanding of Drugstore Cowboy. Drugstore Cowboy is an American classic worthy of being in your collection.

Review by Doug MacLean of hometheaterinfo.com

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