Film Review: Cook County

Strictly recommended for those dying to watch crystal meth addicts being, well, crystal meth addicts, with every attendant horror. Anyone?

The world of crystal meth addiction is copiously explored in writer-director David Pomes’ debut feature Cook County. East Texas teenager Abe (Ryan Donowho) is stuck in a squalid house with his addicted, meth-dealing Uncle Bump (Anson Mount), his permanently fried grandfather (Tommy Townsend), and Bump’s uncared-for little daughter Deandra (Mekenna Fitzsimmons), wandering among the drug paraphernalia and raggedy users which litter the place.

Abe is desperately trying to stay clean himself, while doing his best to protect Deandra from this living hell, in the face of Bump’s increasingly crazed hostility. Abe’s father Sonny (Xander Berkely), recently released from jail and also trying to stay off the pipe, comes home to mend fences with his son, but his presence only adds to the explosive tension.

Cook County is a cautionary tale of the most hardcore stripe, but you have to wonder who’s really going to want to see it. If you’ve ever spent time with meth addicts, you know it’s a horrid, far world from the traditional romanticism of, say, opium use, glorified by the likes of Cocteau and the exquisite Julie Christie in Robert Altman’s masterpiece, McCabe and Mrs. Miller. Here, the characters behave like even more manic updates of those cornpone clods in John Ford’s Tobacco Road, with the difference being that those folk didn’t even need drugs to act so gosh-blamed crazy. Pomes seems to delight in rubbing our faces in all this drug-fueled beastliness and, no, as things progress to an incendiary finish, it decidedly does not get better. Handheld camerawork emphasizes the jitteriness, but the incessantly hammering ugliness becomes monotonous.

Mount, looking like some kind of insane wilderness prophet, has a field day, plying Bump’s paranoia and violence, an exhausting performance. I much preferred Donowho’s quieter, earnest performance, as well as that of hard-working Berkeley, as they both bring a much-needed human element to this unrelentingly hideous saga.