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  Drugstore Cowboy High And Low
Year: 1989
Director: Gus Van Sant
Stars: Matt Dillon, Kelly Lynch, James LeGros, James Remar, Heather Graham, Max Perlich, William S. Burroughs, Grace Zabriskie, Beah Richards, George Catalano
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 4 votes)
Review: Bob Hughes (Matt Dillon) is a drug addict in 1970s America. He has a gang of accomplices who help him rob drugstores: his wife, Dianne (Kelly Lynch), his friend Rick (James LeGros), and Rick's naive girlfriend Nadine (Heather Graham). Their favourite trick is for Nadine to pretend to suffer an epileptic fit on the floor of the drugstore they've targeted while the others slip behind the counter and help themselves. But the junkie life is drawing in on Bob, and a bullish cop (James Remar) is out to catch him red-handed - things can't go on the way they have.

Have you ever been obsessed? So that you can't think about anything else during your waking moments? You go out, your obsession is on your mind, you stay home, it's still holding you in its grip? Drugstore Cowboy, scripted by the director Gus Van Sant and Daniel Yost from James Fogle's autobiographical book, is a tale of one man's experiences with his overwhelming passion, and this being a drug film it has become more than an addiction, it's a way of life. The film has no moral judgements to make, it accepts Bob's choices and tells the tale of his attempts to think about something else for a while.

The junkie lifestyle is dominated by getting high and staying high. Bob and his wife and friends make a pretty effective team in their own world of petty crime, but find their lives ruled by their personal superstitions. You don't mention dogs because Bob and Dianne once had a dog which led the police to their door, you never look at the reverse side of a mirror, and most of all, you never put a hat on a bed. Nadine mentions dogs and puts a thirty day hex on the group, meaning bad luck will follow.

But Nadine doesn't believe in the superstitions, and that is her downfall, especially when she puts a hat on the bed to spite Bob. One tragedy later, and Bob is seriously rethinking his ways. His mother (Grace Zabriskie) is of the opinion that Bob is an addict to avoid reponsibilities, and that's true to a point, but he has the selfish responsibility to keep high, which leads him into danger. It's more the coping with the mundanity of everyday existence that drives him on to more drugs, as Van Sant accentuates with closeups of ordinary objects like ticking wristwatches or lit cigarettes.

But when Bob kicks his habit, he finds the straight life isn't so bad, until his old ways and contacts catch up with him. This emphasis on the boredom of life and the bland acceptance of Bob's character threatens to render Drugstore Cowboy inconsequential, making the possibility that it's only your obsessions that are what keep you going seem very real. However, it's not without humour, although its muted colours imbue a subtle sense of melancholy.

Dillon's charismatic performance saves the film from listlessness as his drugs-based belief system throws up the odd item of philosophical insight. William S. Burroughs shows up in the last half hour, either as an awful warning as what a junkie's life leads to, or an example of a true survivor. Will Bob reach this level? The ending gives the impression that he will never escape his fixation, and he is at peace with that. However, if you're not interested in drugs, then this film could seem like a conversation with someone who's continually distracted. Nice to see a drugs film with no cold turkey sequence, incidentally. Music by Elliot Goldenthal.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Gus Van Sant  (1952 - )

Vaguely arty American director whose films rarely seem quite as satisfying as they should. Drugstore Cowboy remains his best effort, Even Cowgirls Get The Blues undoubtedly his worst. My Own Private Idaho, To Die For, Columbine shootings-based Elephant and Kurt Cobain-inspired Last Days have their fans, and Good Will Hunting was a big success, but the scene-for-scene Psycho remake must be his oddest venture. After a decade of experimentation, including desert trek oddity Gerry, he returned to the mainstream in 2008 with the award-winning biopic Milk then reverted to smaller projects once more, including biopic Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot.

 
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