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  • Writer's pictureJames Rutherford

'Drugstore Cowboy': Gus Van Sant's Unique Depiction of Addiction and Desperation

Movie poster for the film Drugstore Cowboy starring Matt Dillon and Kelly Lynch

Set in the Pacific Northwest in 1971, “Drugstore Cowboy” (1989) is a lively dark comedy that follows a group of downtrodden drug addicts, lead by the inimitable Bob Hughes (Matt Dillon), who rob pharmacies and hospitals to support their burdensome drug habits.

The storyline follows the hijinks of Bob and his crew as they successfully score a highly-sought-after cache of Dilaudid from a chemist in Portland, Oregon, and then abscond to their local hideout—only to run afoul of local police detective hot on their trail. Bob’s subsequent scheme to trick the police through an elaborate ruse goes horribly wrong and a policeman is inadvertently shot, leaving the quartet of junkies on the run. They soon find themselves criss-crossing the land, robbing prescription drug dispensaries at will in a frenzied, sometimes comical crusade of elusion and desperation.

An early gem from esteemed indie auteur Gus Van Sant ("My Own Private Idaho", "Milk"), “Drugstore Cowboy” is an honest and wryly amusing depiction of desolation and discovery, highlighted by Van Sant’s uniquely stylized brand of storytelling. A genuine cult classic.


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