"The Best Film of 1989 and an Authentic Masterpiece"
Before director Gus Van Sant crapped out on us with turgid Hollywood tripe like "Good Will Hunting" and the 1998 "Psycho" remake, he proved himself a daring, innovative auteur with this masterful adaptation of convicted felon James Fogle's blisteringly forceful novel of the 1970s' drug scene.The best film of the year is this dazzingly original, bitingly funny, emotionally penetrating look at an outlaw gang of addicts (composed of couples Matt Dillon and Kelly Lynch, and James LeGros and Heather Graham) as they travel throughout the Pacific Northwest in 1971 in search of drugs, drugs, and more drugs. They're not your average street junkies, though: they're coordinated and careful and resourceful young adults who rob drugstores to attain their preferred choice of prescription drugs (preferably Dilaudid, which they refer to as "Powder D" and is as potent as heroin). They're largely successful in their illegal endeavors, with a sneaking precision to their methods that'd make an Enron exec gush with envy; and they're also exceedingly cautious, burying the drugs they're not currently using or jettisoning their stash through holes in the floorboard of their car before they're pulled over. These miniscule details are helplessly intriguing -- you feel you're getting an education in something you're probably better off not knowing -- and if they seem to add up, that's largely due in part to the same-name novel co-writer/director Gus Van Sant has faithfully adapted: it was written by James Fogle, who's still serving a lengthy prison sentence for robbing drugstores. The consequences of drug addiction are dexterously layered throughout the film instead of being simplistically pounded home a la Requiem for a Dream, yet the film never mistakenly goes didactic on us, because it trusts enough in its lead character (which the galvanizing Dillon smartly underplays) to allow his glints of intelligence and overall sense of decency to clue us into the potential being wasted (he even openly admits to a counselor that he "likes drugs, I like the whole lifestyle"). Making something function as both a cautionary fable and a black comedy (exp: a superstitious couple viewing a hat left on a bed as "the kiss of death") can be a chore, but Van Sant shows an ironclad hold on the material. He nails down tones and textures and moods and atmosphere with the effortless zeal of a born master, and his camerabatics give the proceedings an off-kilter feel that nevertheless stays rooted in reality -- the very thing its anti-heroes try their damndest to obscure themselves from.Should have garnered a ton of Oscar nominations, but Academy voters, unlike Van Sant, decided to play it safe. Shame, shame, shame.