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Drugstore Cowboy (1989, Matt Dillon, Kelly Lynch(



Gus Van Sant and Daniel Yost’s gritty screen adaptation of the novel by James Fogle sets the action in Portland, Oregon in 1971 where self-confessed drug fiend MATT DILLON, his wife, KELLY LYNCH, dim-witted but loyal henchman JAMES LE GROS and Le Gros’ underage girlfriend HEATHER GRAHAM, obtain the drugs they need by robbing hospitals and pharmacies. Police led by narcotics officer JAMES REMAR wreck their house during a search and Remar continues to keep them under surveillance, determined to bring Dillon to book.

Dillon devises an ingenious scheme by which they can remain high and stay one step ahead of the police by sending their stash of drugs on ahead by Greyhound bus while they migrate through the region. Remar, made more bitter by the shooting of one of his men through Dillon’s successful vengeful actions, continues to dog their tracks. When the superstitious Dillon picks up a particularly strong narcotic during a raid, he believes his luck has finally changed and he organizes another raid on a hospital which goes sour. Dillon escapes but, on returning to their motel, finds the others standing over Graham who has killed herself with an overdose. They have to remove her body from the motel when it becomes the venue for a police conference. After burying her in the countryside, Dillon decides to return to Portland and give up drugs. With counselling, he overcomes his addiction in a rehabilitation clinic. But Lynch, appalled and uncomprehending of his decision to become ‘a regular guy with a regular room and a regular job’, refuses to go along with him and obtains more drugs from unfrocked junkie priest WILLIAM S BURROUGHS …

Van Sant called Drugstore Cowboy ‘a vision from a junkie’s mind. So the design and spirit of the film is a little removed from reality, a junkie fantasy where everything works out’. That vision was a composite of the director’s positive feeling for character and situation and the strength of the unpublished novel by James Fogle on which van Sant and Yost based their screenplay. Fogle was then serving a ten year sentence for pharmacy robbery in Washington State penitentiary; Drugstore Cowboy, which came to Yost’s attention in 1976, was his third novel, and they collaborated on its re-working. Some 30 publishers rejected the novel before, in 1987, Yost showed it to Van Sant who was then looking for a film subject. Van Sant liked the idea of a film which he could make in his home territory of the Pacific Northwest and whose characters, as described by Fogle, ‘are a composite of two or three people; nothing is really completely true, but there are a lot of people in these prisons who follow this pattern of hospital and pharmacy robberies’.

production details
USA | 101 minutes | 1989

Director: Gus Van Sant
Writers: Gus Van Sant, Daniel Yost, from the novel by James Fogle

Kelly Lynch as Dianne
Matt Dillon as Robert “Bob” Hughes
Max Perlich as David
Beah Richards as Drug Counselor
Grace Zabriskie as Mrs. Hughes
James Le Gros as Rick
Heather Graham as Nadine
Eric Hull as Druggist
James Remar as Gentry
John Kelly as Cop
George Catalano as Trousinski
Janet Baumhover as Neighbor Lady
Ted D’Arms as Neighbor Man
Neal Thomas as Halamer
Stephen Rutledge as Hotel Manager
William S. Burroughs as Tom the Priest
Robert Lee Pitchlynn as Hotel Clerk
Roger Hancock as Machinist
Michael Parker as Crying Boy
Ray Monge as Accomplice
Doug Cooeyate as Guy with Knife (uncredited)