Starring: Matt Dillon, Kelly Lynch, James LeGros, Heather Graham, James Remar
Rated R (probably for Language and Drug Content)
Gus Van Sant's career has been inconsistent. He was behind movies like "Good Will Hunting" and "Milk," which were excellent, but he was also behind movies like "Paranoid Park" and his much despised version of "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues." So I guess it's just as well that "Drugstore Cowboy" is just as mixed. The first half is boring and aimless, but the second half is more interesting and compelling.
There really isn't a plot to this movie, which considering the material, is perfectly fine. It follows four drug addicts who rob drugstores looking for drugs. Bob (Dillon) is the leader, and his "crew" includes his wife Dianne (Lynch), his friend Rick (LeGros), and Rick's girlfriend Nadine (Graham). They are tailed by a cop named Gentry (Remar), who would very much like to put Bob away.
Movies about aimless characters aren't fundamentally bad, as long as the characters are compelling. That's not the case here. The four leads don't really do anything very interesting, and they have an endless supply of pretentious, nonsensical dialogue. The first half of the movie is Exhibit A for why a lot of audiences are wary of independent fare (a view that, to an extent, I share).
The second half is much better. Bob's journey of self-discovery is much more interesting, and the pretension has been lessened. It's not quite enough to redeem the boredom of the first 45 minutes, but it is engaging.
At least the performances are effective. Matt Dillon, always an interesting actor, does well with the part of the young rebel (a role in which he was typecast early on in his career. Kelly Lynch is much better here than she was in "Virtuosity." James LeGros and Heather Graham are also in fine form. The scene stealer is James Remar, who is quite effective. Gentry is poorly written, but Remar picks up a lot of the slack. The film would have worked better had it focused on him.
In fact, a lack of focus is what really holds this film back. Shave ten or fifteen minutes off the first 45 minutes (and it's only 102 minutes long), dial back some of the pretension, and you might have a movie.