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Cook County premiered at the SXSW Film Festival in Austin, TX. This
excellent feature from first time writer/director David Pomes provides
a disturbing look at the horrors of Meth addiction which, until now,
has been mostly chronicled - if at all - in documentary films. There
have been many excellent features on the highly cinematic issue of drug
addiction including to name, but a few of the very best, Leaving Las
Vegas, Trainspotting, and Requiem for a Dream. Cook County, while not
quite as good as these classics, falls into their tradition.
One reason that Meth addiction seems to be underreported in the media and rarely seen on screen is that it is a problem of rural America. American films are mostly set in urban and suburban areas and often seem to be barely aware of the existence, much less the difficulties and complexities of life in rural America.
The story is a powerful one of a family in the complete meltdown of Meth addiction. The affect of the family crisis on the 6-year-old little girl are particularly disturbing to watch. The script is excellent. The characters and their relationships to each other are well-developed. The acting is excellent - particularly Ryan Donowho is particularly good.
The scenes of the characters using Meth that show how it affects their behavior and judgment are compelling and very believable. There are a few places where elements of the plot are left ambiguous and its difficult to tell if the confusion is the result of poor editing or intentional ambiguity. But these flaws are minor and ultimately unimportant.
This is an important film and it deserves wider distribution since so many people are unaware of the dangers of Meth addiction.
"Cook County" was part of the Lone Star States section, focusing on
Texas filmmakers, at the 2008 SXSW Film Festival. I attended the World
Premiere last weekend and felt that I was witnessing the birth of a
future indie classic.
Anson Mount ("The Battle of Shaker Heights," "All the Boys Love Mandy Lane") and Ryan Donowho ("Imaginary Heroes," "The O.C.") are cousins traveling down a path of drug-fueled self-destruction. The difference is that one wants out while the other is too far gone to care. Having a meth lab in the house is quite a convenient way of staying obliviated and Bump (Mount) takes full advantage of it. Abe (Donowho) might have been all too happy to play along if not for the fact that he sees his niece, Bump's daughter Deandra (Makenna Fitzsimmons in a career-launching role), being neglected in the process. Enter the prodigal son, Bump's brother Sonny (Xander Berkley), fresh out of prison. Sonny is determined to play peacemaker but his loyalties are divided.
The Texas backwoods set is almost another character, providing the perfect den of iniquity for the nonstop party. Natural lighting and hand-held camera, with frequent extreme closeups, enhances the claustrophobic feeling and brings the viewer right into the stench. I almost felt uncomfortable at times, as though I was invading their space. The soundtrack is haunting and the action unrelenting.
This is a true character-driven piece that can be difficult to watch at times but is hard to turn away from, like a wreck on the highway. Mount's performance is a tour de force and one of the best I've seen in a long time. Donowho is the perfect puppy dog who gets caught between a rock and a hard place in challenging his cousin for the safety of the girl. His work has always impressed me and this is by far his most challenging role, and he nails it. As intrigue creeps in the story becomes absolutely unpredictable. Writer/director David Pomes has crafted a masterful work which kept me guessing right until the end.
Kudos to the production team for getting every element right in telling this truly original story. I had no idea where "Cook County" was going and I suspect that's what life must be like for lowlifes like this.
I went to see this film at SXSW to keep a friend of mine happy and all
I can say is...WOW! I'm not a film student or critic by any means. I'm
just our average Joe that is not often overly impressed with most of
the films that come out of Hollywood. THIS film, though, was well worth
my time and I thanked my friend for getting me to see it.
Ultimately this film is about good, evil, and finding redemption. Xander Berkeley plays Sonny, a father who has taken a wrong path in life and is trying hard to make up for wasted time and broken relationships. You are not always sure what he is up to or if he will redeem himself or fall back to his old ways, but he finally finds his redemption through sacrifice in a most unexpected way.
Ryan Donowho does a very fine job as Abe, a teen in the unenviable position of being his 6-year old cousin's protector in a house full of meth addicts. Abe is doing the best he can and shows a lot of heart, but ultimately the situation is way over the head of somebody with such limited resources and life experience.
Anson Mount simply puts on the performance of his career. I can't say enough about what he put on screen. You're not going to like his character Bump, Abe's uncle and the father of a 6-year old girl whose life he seems determined to ruin in the worst way. He is a man who has completely lost any moral compass he may have had. He is the black hole in the cosmic center of this household. There seems to be no end to his addiction and self serving decadence. Mount brings a realism to this character that may well make your blood boil.
The film is raw and real. As one other reviewer stated, there are parts of this film that are hard to sit in your seat and watch. However, this is only because you'll want to jump into the screen and do something to change the course of events that define the impending train wreck of these peoples lives.
To me this film was a little choppy early which is the only reason I didn't give it 10 of 10, but in the end this is of minor consequence. This film is powerful. If you are looking for a glossed over look at drug addiction, go somewhere else. This film will slap you in the face with it.
Whatever one might think about the content and context of this film, it
is the truth. This is one of those exceedingly rare examples of
filmcraft where everything was delivered about as perfectly as
possible. The characters, the scenarios . . . the acting and direction
is absolutely spot on.
I know this world, the tweeker universe and the absolute nightmare that comes with it. The story that is utilized as the delivery platform is very credible, the characters as delivered are as real as it gets. If anything, aside from the entertainment aspect that this film might deliver, this should be an educational film for anyone who is even remotely tempted to step into this universe.
Trust me on this one . . . it's a place you don't want to be, and I can't imagine a better delivery vehicle to get this point across than the content of this film.
Not even a nanosecond of hesitation . . . 10 stars, and then some.
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