Drugstore Cowboy

1989

Drugstore Cowboy

Critics Consensus

Drugstore Cowboy takes us into a violent, transient world with cool, contemplative style.

100%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 27

85%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 22,876
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Movie Info

The operative word in Drugstore Cowboy is "drug". Matt Dillon plays the leader of a group of dopeheads who wander around the country robbing pharmacies to feed their habits. Dillon's chums include doltish James Le Gros and teen-age junkie Heather Graham; also along for the ride is Dillon's wife Kelly Lynch. Their nemesis is cop James Remar, whom Dillon takes perverse delight in humiliating. When one of the young addicts dies of an overdose, it promps Dillon to try to go straight, a task complicated by wife Lynch's determination to stay high and by the corrupting presence of an ex-priest, played by Naked Lunch author William Burroughs. Drugstore Cowboy was director Gus Van Sant's breakthrough picture.

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Critic Reviews for Drugstore Cowboy

All Critics (27) | Top Critics (7) | Fresh (27)

Audience Reviews for Drugstore Cowboy

  • Oct 13, 2017
    Matt Dillon delivers an excellent performance (one of his best) in a film that can be equally sad and funny (even funnier than one would imagine), surprising us with the depth it achieves yet reaching an ending that feels too easy compared to the audacity that preceded it.
    Carlos M Super Reviewer
  • May 31, 2014
    "There's been a load of compromisin' on the road to my horizon, but I'm gonna be where the lights are shinin' on me, like a drugstore cowboy, riding out on a horse [with no name] in a star-spangled rodeo!" See, I tossed in a little reference to America's "A Horse with No Name", because it's about drugs, like this film. First they're prostitutes, then they're junkies, so I think it's safe to say that we keep all of these urban cowboys in the desert and off of the street for the sake of their best interest, or try to keep Matt Dillon away from anyplace. I don't know what it is, but even though he's never really had a drug controversy, Dillon always had a kind of intensity in his eyes that made him seem like he'd make one heck of a junkie, so it's only fair that he's good in this film. I'm just amazed that Gus Van Sant is able to make a film about the struggles of a certain type of people and not make that character type in question gays, but here he is, so committed to the themes on drugs that he convinced William S. Burroughs to show up. I guess junkie problems sell better than gay problems, because, for those looking for an opportunity to fire off confetti for on occasion that happened about 25 years ago, this was Van Sant's breakout film... and yet, I still don't hear too many people talking about it these days. That's a shame, because it's pretty decent, but not as much as many say it is, because, like Matt Dillon when it comes to drug use, it seems to be missing out on some opportunities. It feels as though there are times in which the film makes an effort to freshen up an interpretation of subject matter of this type, but much more often than that, it falls into tropes as a junkie drama, until it is utterly predictable, with unique aspects that rarely extend past a certain stylization. Needless to say, I'd love to embrace the refreshing style of the film, and I can about as often as I cannot, but Gus Van Sant has a tendency to get carried away with its style, whose frantic pacing and trippy imagery often loses purpose and simply drives inconsistency into the stylistic realization of the effort. About as inconsistent is the tone of the film, which is more of a comedy-drama if anything, sort of in the drug-pumped vein of "Trainspotting", only not as realized, with jars between light humor and bleak dramatics that betray the depths of this promising effort, limited though they may be. Each of the consequential shortcomings just touched upon stand firm, but they might not be quite as glaring as the natural shortcomings, which are themselves limited, but nonetheless carry a certain thinness to the sense of consequence, made all the less engaging by characters of rocky likability. I feel as though there should be more going on in this drama's story concept, and yet, at the same time, too much goes on for storytelling to keep up with, because even though focal inconsistencies is at its absolute worst during a slam-banged and disjointed first act, they rarely abate as arguably the biggest issue in a film which is either too meaty for consistency's sake, or too thin for narrative bite's sake. There's not a whole lot to complain about it here, but that's because there's not a lot to talk about at all when it comes to this inspired opus of limited consequence, and when there are things to complain about, they go a long way in betraying what potential there is. With all of that said, while the film never quite gets out of underwhelming, it's generally endearing, even with musical style. Staying faithful to the intentionally experimental and disjointed style of the film, Elliot Goldenthal composes a tight avant-garde, if free jazz score, broken up by some delightful old-fashioned pop tunes, thus making for a diverse and stylish soundtrack that adds to the film's entertainment value and trippy flavors, with the help of Gus Van Sant's directorial orchestration. Of course, Van Sant's style is not only musically effective, playing with snappy editing by Mary Bauer and Curtiss Clayton, and with unique and intriguing visuals that, while often frantic and distancing in their overtaking substance, entertain and sometimes add to the substance of this film which thrives on both style and depth. If there is a deeper side to this drama, while its effectiveness is heavily betrayed by a sense of tonal inconsistency, Van Sant anchors it by cutting through all of the style and freneticism for the sake of some genuine thoughtfulness, which establishes some tension and resonance, while providing glimpses of a more realized project. That type of project rests somewhere within the subject matter, whose value is limited by a story concept of surprisingly questionable consequence, by issues in its interpretation, and, of course, by sheer familiarity, but is not so watered down that it loses intrigue all that much, being an interesting idea as a slightly lighter study on drug addiction, actually done some justice by clever highlights in Van Sant's and David Yost's script. The film gets by pretty relatively far on the back of its wit, which even falls into characterization that, despite its unlikable traits, crafts some generally intriguing characters, which at least seem intriguing due to the charisma of their portrayers. If nothing else impresses in this film, it's its talent cast, whose highlights in the supporting region include the lovely Heather Graham and Kelly Lynch, and even William S. Burroughs, and whose brightest star is leading man Matt Dillon, whose charisma and layers as a user and dealer who begins to question where his path shall lead consistently engages, and sometimes grips. Dillon more-or-less carries the film, but not alone, because no matter how much potential goes betrayed and limited to begin with, style and substance are realized enough to at least entertain through and through, even though they could have cut deeper. Bottom line, there's something familiar, overstylized, tonally uneven, and focally disjointed about the telling of a story whose sense of consequence is limited to begin with, thus making for a film which is underwhelming, though not to where a nifty soundtrack, directorial style and storytelling thoughtfulness, clever script and solid acting - particularly by leading man Matt Dillon - aren't able to drive "Drugstore Cowboy" as a fair affair that could have been more, but gets by as a junkie drama. 2.5/5 - Fair
    Cameron J Super Reviewer
  • Feb 28, 2013
    A well-done, gritty drama about addicts led by a charismatic young man (Matt Dillon) who rob drug stores along the West coast in order to clinch their drive to be high at all times. Dillon is sensational in the lead role as a man whose aimless life keeps on taking turns for the worse that he somehow gets out of each time due to sheer luck, and instead of squandering his chances to start his life anew, his character battles to find redemption despite his clinging urges to stay on the path he is on. Gus Van Sant's direction is phenomenal, striking a nostalgic tone to this film as he shows the characters dancing and goofing around below bridges, unaware and uncaring about the path their lives are on. Van Sant gives us a convincing, harrowing look at the lives of people addicted to prescription drugs, and despite the somewhat predictable turn his story ends up taking, it still gives the viewer hope that not all is lost amongst the drug-addled bodies of these characters. An experimental film with an indie vibe, and not for all tastes, but a very good motion picture.
    Dan S Super Reviewer
  • Nov 24, 2012
    A dark story of drug addiction, crime, and recovery, Drugstore Cowboy is definitely not easy watching, but it's very well-acted by Matt Dillon and the story it tells is very powerful. An above average addiction drama.
    Joey S Super Reviewer

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