There is no shortage of movies that feature drugs and drug use. Most have an agenda regarding their portrayal of drugs and those who use drugs. Most movies either attempt to glamorize drugs or intend to demonize them. I usually find that these movies try too hard with their message or loose the through line somewhere in the second act, but there are a few movies out there that don’t romanticize, idealize, or patronize when it comes to drugs and drug use. Gus Van Sant’s Drugstore Cowboy is one of these few movies.
There are a couple concessions I want to make before I recommend this movie. First, the movie is set in 1971, and it was released in 1989 so it does feel dated at points. Second, there are a few moments early in the movie when Matt Dillon’s character, Bob, waxes poetic about drug use. I don’t view this as romanticizing drug use especially when we hear what Bob has to say later in the movie (hope that isn’t too much of a spoiler for you). With these too minor points aside this is a sound movie that takes an honest look at drugs and drug use (as honest as you can get in the weird world of Hollywood). Drugstore Cowboy is an insight into the world and daily lives of four junkies, but Van Sant does not pass any sort of explicit judgement on their lifestyles (he leaves judgement to the viewer).
If you are in the mood for a well written movie with sound acting and solid directing that features drugs and drug use in a realistic sense then Drugstore Cowboy is worth a watch. Hell, you may want to watch it just to see William S. Burroughs acting.
Drugstore Cowboy (1989) with Matt Dillon, Kelly Lynch, James Le Gros, and Heather Graham. Directed by Gus Van Sant.