MATT DILLON, KELLY LYNCH, JAMES LE GROS and HEATHER GRAHAM are a pair of junkie couples who have linked up to scrounge and steal in support of their shared habit and have a running battle with cop Gentry (JAMES REMAR) which turns nasty. When all else fails, Dillon's mother (GRACE ZABRISKIE) can be robbed for small change. After Graham o-d's, Dillon tries to straighten out, advised by elderly priest and counsellor Tom (WILLIAM S.BURROUGHS), but he falls victim to the next generation of junkie thieves.
The movie is set in Portland, Oregon and based on the unpublished memoirs of a junkie who is still doing time. Writer-director Gus Van Sant leaves it nestled in 1971 (so that AIDS plays no part in the story). The result is as near as it is possible to imagine a commercially released movie getting to the authentic junk experience. It also takes a notably detached position, neither preaching against nor glorifying the drug issue.
The participation of dope guru Burroughs is rather skilfully contained by Van Sant so as neither to grant him special legitimacy nor to undercut him. Both those who see addiction as liberation and those who see it as enslavement could call up this movie as witness and rely on its bleak but never nihilistic authenticity. As always with this director, the music track is very eclectic but always fascinating, the performances informal but thoughtful and the whole idiosyncratic but satisfying.