Drugstore Cowboy

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Drugstore Cowboy
Drugstore Cowboy.png
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Gus Van Sant
Produced by Karen Murphy
Cary Brokaw
Nick Wechsler
Written by Gus Van Sant
Daniel Yost
Based on Drugstore Cowboy
by James Fogle
Music by Elliot Goldenthal
Cinematography Robert Yeoman
Edited by Mary Bauer
Curtiss Clayton
Distributed by International Video Entertainment
Avenue Pictures
Release date
  • October 6, 1989 (1989-10-06) (United States)
Running time
102 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $2.5 million[1]
Box office $4.7 million[1]

Drugstore Cowboy is a 1989 American crime drama film directed by the American filmmaker Gus Van Sant. Written by Van Sant and Daniel Yost, and based on an autobiographical novel by James Fogle, the film stars Matt Dillon, Kelly Lynch, Heather Graham and William S. Burroughs. It was Van Sant's second film as director.

At the time the film was made, the source novel by Fogle was unpublished. It was later published in 1990,[2] by which time Fogle had been released from prison. Fogle, like the characters in his story, was a long-time drug user and dealer.

The film was a critical success and currently holds a rare 100% rating at Rotten Tomatoes, with an average score of 8/10 based on 27 reviews.


Bob Hughes is the leader of a crew of drug addicts consisting of him, his wife, Dianne, his best friend, Rick, and Rick's girlfriend, a teenager named Nadine. Together, they travel across the U.S. Pacific Northwest in 1971, supporting their drug habits by robbing pharmacies and hospitals.

After successfully robbing a Portland, Oregon pharmacy, they go straight home to use the drugs they just stole. During the process of getting high, a local low-life named David visits the group in search of hard-to-find dilaudid. Bob lies and says they have none but offers to trade him morphine for speed instead. David initially declines, but Bob talks him into trading anyway. After David leaves, the police bust down the group's door and the lead detective, Gentry, correctly assumes they were the ones who robbed the pharmacy. The police wreck the apartment while searching for the drugs but are unable to find them because the group wisely buried them outside.

They then move to a different apartment. Bob plans to get back at the police by setting up an elaborate scheme. It succeeds and one of the policemen is shot by a neighbor who thought the cop was a peeper. The next day, Gentry (knowing Bob was behind it all) assaults Bob outside his apartment. Seeing the assault as a sign of a hex Rick and Nadine had previously brought upon the group by speaking about dogs, they leave their apartment to go "crossroading." One night on the road, they come across a drugstore with an open transom. They proceed to sneak in and rob the pharmacy, extremely pleased to find their haul includes vials of pure powdered dilaudid worth thousands of dollars each. Bob, using the logic "When you're hot, you're hot", convinces his wife he should finally rob the hospital he's always wanted to.

During the robbery, Bob is almost captured and the robbery is a complete failure. Upon arriving back at the motel, the group discovers Nadine has fatally overdosed by sneaking a bottle of dilaudid during their last score. To make matters worse, she has also put the "worst of all hexes" on them by leaving a hat on the bed. After temporarily storing Nadine's body in the motel's attic, they are alerted by the motel manager that their room was previously booked for a police convention, and they must check out immediately. Bob, under tremendous anxiety and stress while having visions of handcuffs and prison, manages to sneak the body out of the motel in a large garment bag. Right before burying Nadine in a remote forest, Bob alerts his wife that he is going to get clean and begin a 28-day methadone program. She is shocked and confused by Bob's sudden dramatic decision. He asks her to get clean with him, but she declines, telling him, "You know I can't".

Going their separate ways, Bob moves back to Portland into a long-stay motel and gets a low-level manufacturing job. One day at the methadone clinic, he sees an elderly drug-addicted priest named Tom. They reminisce about the old days when drugs weren't so demonized. Another day, on the street, Bob runs into David, who is bullying a kid who supposedly owes David money. Bob stops David from hurting the kid any further, and the kid runs away, much to David's disgust.

After adjusting to his new life, Bob is visited by both Dianne and Gentry on separate occasions. Gentry warns Bob the policeman Bob got shot has been making threats and might act on them. Dianne reveals she and Rick are now in a relationship and that he is in charge of their new group. Dianne then asks Bob what happened out on the road to make him suddenly change his life so drastically. He answers that Nadine's death, the hex she put on them with the hat, and the possibility of serious prison time all contributed to his eventual decision. He then reveals to her a deal he made with a higher power that if he could safely get Nadine's body out of the motel, past the cops, and into the ground without being caught, he would then straighten his life out in return.

After explaining this to Dianne, he begs her to stay the night with him, but she declines. Before she leaves, she gives Bob a package of drugs as a gift. Bob, instead of using them and relapsing, gives the drugs to the priest, Tom, who is very pleased. Upon re-entering his room, Bob is attacked by two masked figures. The leader turns out to be David. They think Bob is still an addict and has drugs on him. Bob tells them the truth, that he is clean and doesn't have any drugs, but David doesn't believe him and ends up shooting him. A neighbor hears the shot and phones for help. While Bob is getting loaded onto an ambulance, Gentry asks him numerous times who shot him and if it was the policeman. Bob tells Gentry it was "the hat" and "the TV baby".

During the ambulance ride, Bob thinks out loud how he got in his situation. He comes to the realization that no matter how hard he tries, he can never fully escape the drug life. He also jokes about how he now has a free ticket to the "fattest pharmacy in town." The film ends with him saying, "I'm still alive", and, "I hope they can keep me alive."



Tom Waits was Van Sant's first choice to play the lead although the finance company would not support Van Sant if he had cast him. Officially the reason given was that Waits was appearing in another movie they were financing although Van Sant has said he suspected the Oscar win of Kiss of the Spider Woman, a film they had also financed, had made them want a lead who could win an Oscar.[3]

Filming locations[edit]

Drugstore Cowboy was filmed mainly around Portland, Oregon, including in an area in the Pearl District that used to be a railyard, with a viaduct going over it.[4] The Lovejoy Columns, which formerly held up the viaduct and feature outsider artwork, are featured in the movie.[5]


Drugstore Cowboy: Selections From the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Soundtrack album by Elliot Goldenthal
Released 1989
Length 36:14
Label Novus 3077-2-N13;[6]
RCA 3077-2-N
Producer Elliot Goldenthal
Elliot Goldenthal chronology
Blank Generation
Drugstore Cowboy: Selections From the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Pet Sematary

The soundtrack includes songs that are contemporaneous with the film's setting, along with original music by Elliot Goldenthal. It is one of his earliest works; in it he does not use an orchestra but a whole range of instruments treated in a synthesizer.[7] The score and soundtrack were also the first that Goldenthal worked on with Richard Martinez, a music producer whose "computer expertise and sound production assistance" became the basis for frequent subsequent collaborations.[8] AllMusic rated this soundtrack three stars out of five.[6]

Side one[6]
  1. "For All We Know" (4:58) – Abbey Lincoln
  2. "Little Things" (2:25) – Bobby Goldsboro
  3. "Put a Little Love in Your Heart" (2:38) – Jackie DeShannon
  4. "Psychotic Reaction" (3:06) – Count Five
  5. "Judy in Disguise" (2:56) – John Fred & His Playboy Band
  6. "The Israelites" (2:47) – Desmond Dekker & The Aces
Side two[6]
  1. "Yesterday's Jones" (0:45)
  2. "Morpheus Ascending" (1:17)
  3. "Monkey Frenzy" (2:20)
  4. "Wonder Waltz" (1:19)
  5. "White Gardenia" (1:54)
  6. "The Floating Hex" (1:37)
  7. "Mr. F. Wadd" (1:02)
  8. "Elegy Mirror" (0:48)
  9. "Panda the Dog" (0:51)
  10. "Heist and Hat" (1:36)
  11. "Strategy Song" (2:04)
  12. "Bob's New Life" (2:48)
  13. "Clockworks" (0:32)
  14. "Cage Iron" (1:03)
  15. "Goodnight Nadine" (1:28)


Critical response[edit]

The film was very well received critically and is listed on the Top Ten lists of both Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, for films released in 1989. It holds a rare 100% rating at Rotten Tomatoes, with an average score of 8/10 based on 27 reviews.[9] Review aggregator Metacritic assigned the film a weighted average score of 82 based on 15 reviews, indicating "Universal Acclaim".[10]


Drugstore Cowboy won the following awards:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Drugstore Cowboy". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved January 2, 2012. 
  2. ^ ISBN 0-385-30224-X "Drugstore Cowboy".
  3. ^ Bernstein, Paula. "Gus Van Sant: On Working with William S. Burroughs and the Evolution of Indie Film". 
  4. ^ "Filming Locations for Drugstore Cowboy". miskoviec.com. Retrieved January 29, 2015.
  5. ^ "Lovejoy Lost". Oregon Department of Kick Ass: The Work of Vanessa Renwick. Archived from the original on May 13, 2014. Retrieved December 7, 2014. 
  6. ^ a b c d "Review of Drugstore Cowboy Original Soundtrack". Allmusic. Retrieved January 29, 2015.
  7. ^ "Drugstore Cowboy (1989)". Music from the Movies. Retrieved January 29, 2015.
  8. ^ Thomas Staudter (March 23, 2003). "...and the Music for Frida, Produced in a Scarsdale Basement". The New York Times. Retrieved January 30, 2011. 
  9. ^ "Drugstore Cowboy (1989)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved January 29, 2015. 
  10. ^ "Drugstore Cowboy (1989)". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved January 29, 2015. 
  11. ^ "15TH ANNUAL LOS ANGELES FILM CRITICS ASSOCIATION AWARDS". www.lafca.net. Retrieved 2017-01-27. 
  12. ^ "Past Awards". National Society of Film Critics. 2009-12-19. Retrieved 2017-01-28. 
  13. ^ "Ahead Of Its Time: Gus Van Sant's Drugstore Cowboy". hollywoodsuite.ca. Retrieved 6 July 2018. 
  14. ^ "Critics Circle Selects 'Left Foot' for Best Film and Actor". The New York Times. 19 Dec 1989. Retrieved 6 July 2018. 

External links[edit]