Title: Cook County
Director: David Pomes
Starring: Anson Mount, Xander Berkeley, Ryan Donowho, Polly Cole, Makenna Fitzsimmons
On the small screen, AMC’s “Breaking Bad” has shined a light on the production of methamphetamine, and wrung much drama from the heightened stakes of a seemingly regular family man’s descent into moral and criminal contravention. Writer-director David Pomes’ effectively grimy “Cook County” takes a look at the ravaging effects of the same drug from a user’s point-of-view, detailing the familial chaos surrounding three generations of addicts living in rural East Texas. A gritty, pungent drama with some nicely attuned performances, the film is well worth seeking out for fans of off-the-beaten-path independent fare.
At the movie’s center is Tommy, aka Bump (Anson Mount), a perpetually strung-out addict and meth cook who lives with his girlfriend Lucy (Polly Cole) and a series of other burn-outs who seem to come and go. The ruination of his own life might not be so bad, but Bump’s six-year-old daughter Deandra (Makenna Fitzsimmons) is also caught up in the mix, and a continuous victim of his curious combination of obliviousness and over-protectiveness. Bump’s teenage nephew, Abe (Ryan Donowho), tries to look out for his younger cousin as best he can, but lives in constant fear of his uncle’s violent rages and irrational paranoia. He’s older, but no less stuck and a victim of his circumstances than Deandra.
An uptick of hope arrives when Bump’s older brother and Abe’s dad, Sonny (Xander Berkeley), returns home after a two-and-a-half-year absence. He’s gone clean and sober, and unbeknownst to Bump has also done a stint in prison, and is thus required to check in with a parole officer. Abe at first welcomes his father back, but then old resentments come bubbling up. Trying to finally do right by his son, Sonny wonders if his brother is too far gone, and if so whether it’s too late to extricate the rest of his loved ones from the dark clutches of drugs.
The winner of the prestigious Audience Award at the SXSW Film Festival, “Cook County” is a solidly constructed little film that casts its lot with a group of game actors. If Mount — emaciated and sporting a scruffy beard that makes him look like a crazed gold rush ancestor of Daniel Day-Lewis – sometimes feels like he’s overdialing his accented impression of Matthew McConaughey, he certainly nails the flitting mindset of a drug addict, in which tangential thoughts collide and battle for mangled articulation. Donowho, who kind of recalls Lou Taylor Pucci, exudes a basic sympathetic nature. The underrated Berkeley, meanwhile, particularly shines as a fundamentally decent but in-over-his-head guy trying desperately to pay down the sins of his past.
Director of photography Brad Rushing and production designer James Fowler, meanwhile, abet Pomes in creating a movie with a grungy authenticity. Sweat pours off of almost every character in every scene (Mount probably never wears a shirt during the entire film), and the rank aroma of frantic hopelessness can almost be smelled coming off the screen. That things end badly is no great surprise, but there is hope in the pinched battle for redemption that unfolds in “Cook County.” This may not be a pleasant slice of Americana, but it is unfortunately part of our modern collective story.
Written by: Brent Simon