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Artisan Home Entertainment presents
Drugstore Cowboy (1989)

"Be careful with this stuff. It'll kill you."
- Bobby Hughes (Matt Dillon)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: April 10, 2000

Stars: Matt Dillon, Kelly Lynch
Other Stars: Heather Graham
Director: Gus Van Sant

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: R for violence, drug use, language, sexual situations.
Run Time: 1h:41m:18s
Release Date: October 26, 1999
UPC: 012236604976
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A A-AD+ B+

DVD Review

Black comedy can be difficult to pull off. There is always the risk of becoming too grim or too lighthearted. Gus Van Sant, in his first major directorial role, walks this tightrope nicely in the modern classic Drugstore Cowboy.

Matt Dillon stars as Bobby Hughes, a drug addict in early-70's Portland, Oregon, who feeds his habit by robbing drugstores with his wife Diane (Kelly Lynch) and his two understudies, Rick and Nadine (James Le Gros and an impossibly young Heather Graham). Hughes is up against an unrelenting cop, Gentry, and his own incompetent compatriots who inevitably mess up Hughes' various heists and deals. But perhaps his worst opponent is his own paranoia and superstition as he foresees doom in the mention of a dog, or the sight of a hat on a bed.

There are quite a few solidly comical moments, such as when Bobby learns that Gentry is keeping him under surveillance. Bobby's response is to warn his powderkeg neighbor that Gentry is a peeper, with amusing results.

The character interaction works well, as the foursome strive toward their differing goals while they attempt to keep their routine of drugstore robbery operating smoothly. Rick and Nadine have to have everything explained to them, which permits some much-needed expository dialogue and background on various narcotics. This information is conveyed in an appropriate manner and never becomes heavy-handed.

The last quarter of the film initially fell flat for me, until I listened to the commentary. Van Sant makes it clear that the events of that portion are a metaphor for prison, which works quite satisfactorily and gives the ending a less disruptive feeling.

Especially delightful in small roles are author William S. Burroughs as a drug-addicted ex-priest who counsels Bobby, and Grace Zabriskie (who, like Heather Graham, would go on to a supporting role in David Lynch's series Twin Peaks) as Bobby's mother.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreenno - no
Original Aspect Ratioyesno

Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic picture is quite solid, with lifelike color. The colors are not too vivid nor too washed out. As the commentary notes, the color scheme is intentionally weighted towards green. This effect comes through clearly, without being obtrusive or overbearing. No artifacts were observed, and blacks are generally quite dark. The drug sequences are appropriately soft.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: The disc unfortunately suffers from a very loud hiss on the soundtrack. This hiss is quite distracting in the quiet scenes. The wistful jazz score comes through solidly in the two-channel stereo. However, there is little directionality. Bass is solid without being overpowering or distracting.

Audio Transfer Grade: D+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 35 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 TV Spots/Teasers
1 Documentaries
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Gus van Sant and Mat
Packaging: Alpha
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual
Layers Switch: 01h:01m:55s

Extras Review: Artisan provides a nice array of extras here, though the absence of a theatrical trailer is rather mysterious. As is typical, Artisan does not provide subtitles. This is rather annoying, particularly on a disc which has a commentary; it's nice to know what the dialogue is while the discussion is ongoing.

The commentary here is quite informative, and gives a good deal of background information on James Fogle, the author of the unpublished novel that is the basis for the screenplay. Fogle apparently engaged in many of the activities depicted in the film (he was in prison when the book was written and the film was released). Van Sant and Dillon's memories of ten years earlier are rather hazy at first, though they get some better as the film progresses. Overall, this is an above-average commentary. Van Sant and Dillon play well off of each other, and there are not many extended silences.

The documentary "The Making of Drugstore Cowboy," (27m:47s) is mostly a fluff piece with people talking about how good the others on the film are to work with. There is, however, a fair amount of footage demonstrating how unready Van Sant was to direct his first Hollywood feature. He was already seriously behind schedule by the third day of shooting, and matters got worse from there. This feature is somewhat better than the usual making-of in that we get a view of less-than-optimal conditions.

The bios and filmographies are extensive and informative. However, they suffer from a silly design, where one hits Enter to move through the bio, then without warning at the end instead of going on to the filmography, the default selection becomes back. This inevitably results in unintentionally revisiting the prior screens.

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

Artisan gives Drugstore Cowboy an excellent special edition presentation. The hissy sound detracts significantly, but the anamorphic picture and the extras on this important film make this disc a definite plus to any DVD collection.


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