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Living in a small town and amongst a house full of crystal meth abusers, seventeen year old Abe (Ryan Donowho) wrestles to beat an addiction to meth and struggles to protect himself and his young niece from an abusive Uncle Bump (Anson Mount). When Sonny (Xander Berkeley) returns home from prison seeking redemption from his son, Abe, the two must navigate the treacherous waters created by Bump, who will do almost anything to maintain a dangerous lifestyle fueled by crystal meth.
I hand it off to coincidence that I viewed David Pomes’ directorial debut Cook County the same week I finally got to view Winter’s Bone. Both are films about middle American small town folk whose lives, in some way, are affected by crystal meth. I’m not quite sure why I am drawn to this subject matter. I found out a little over a year ago that my estranged father was in prison for a short time for meth manufacturing with the intent to distribute. I never knew the man, so when I feel drawn to subject matter like this, sometimes I get the impression it’s my way of understanding him better. Then again, I could be completely full of shit with that last statement.
The film mostly takes place deep in the woods somewhere in Eastern Texas. We’re quickly introduced to 17 year old Abe, who has to survive living with his constantly high and crazy Uncle Bump. The house they call “home” is completely run down and unfit to be called that by anyone in their right mind. Psychotic and delusional, Bump’s mission of delivering the truth (meth) to the people overshadows every logical responsibility he should be paying attention to. And the number one responsibility here is is his 6 year old daughter Deandra (Mekenna Fitzsimmons) who, if it weren’t for Abe’s care, would have probably starved to death by the point we’re introduced to her in the film.
It’s the bond between Abe and Deandra that starts to cause conflict between Bump and Abe. The return of Abe’s father Sonny (Xander Berkeley) from prison escalates this conflict into a hard to watch gritty scene of a dysfunctional family unraveling while Sonny tries to mend the cracked relationship with his son.
It’s very easy for me to say here that Cook County is a tough film to watch. The story here takes the audience on a steady meth fueled downward spiral. With the combination of Pomes’ script, directorial capabilities and the commitment of the actors, Cook County is a solid piece of work. Anson Mount is the stand out performance here. Much like Christian Bale’s performance in The Fighter, I began to forget I was actually watching an actor on screen perform. He was that real and that good. I hate to admit this, but I had no idea who he was until he graced my television screen earlier this year with the premiere of AMC’s Hell On Wheels. But aside from Mount, both Donowho and Berkeley deliver necessary and poignant performances as well.
The film’s climax is a disgusting, ugly and violent one. It left a bad taste in my mouth and reminded me of films like Boys Don’t Cry. I’m sure the choices made were viable for the characters’ reality in the world created on screen but it was tough for me to accept the events and enjoy the film. This brought me to my own conclusion that Cook County is one of those movies I can appreciate but never watch again. I’m not saying it’s bad. It’s just a rough ride and takes you to some places you really don’t want to go. Since the film premiered to festival acclaim roughly four years ago, maybe this has been the issue as to why it’s taken so long for a theatrical release.
Cook County is very well acted and a promising directorial debut by David Pomes. The film opens theatrically on Friday December 16th in select cities.
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