Director: David Pomes Notable Cast: Anson Mount, Xander Berkeley, Ryan Donowho, Polly Cole, Makenna Fitzsimmons, John McClain
David Pomes never set out to make films. A graduate from the University of Texas, he spent the better part of a decade working as a trial lawyer. Ten years was enough for him, so he gave up the practice. A lover of movies, he decided to write his own beginning in 2006. A year later he was making his first feature, although he never had any experience behind a camera.
Inexperience or not his debut as a do-it-yourself filmmaker, Cook County, is a stark portrait of a dysfunctional family pushed to the edge by crystal meth dealing and addiction. Less than a million to make, the film is roughly constructed and marred by continuity issues. Despite these problems, the indie drama is elevated by its performances, and staccato dialogue that is truly convincing in its illustration of someone under the influence. As the minutes tick by there’s an impending dread that sets in. Something bad could happen at any moment, making the viewing experience that much more exhilarating.
Anson Mount (Tully) is the biggest reason why. Skittish and with a mountain man countenance – bedhead hair to match his scruffy beard – his performance as Bump is flat-out scary. He’s a backwoodsy drug kingpin who supplies meth throughout his piney woods county. He’s a cooker, a seller and a user. The man has an addiction, which accelerates his violent mood swings and paranoia.
Bump also has no sound judgment. He’ll toke up in front of his six-year-old daughter Deandra (Makenna Fitzsimmons) without remorse. Abe (Ryan Donowho), Bump’s teenage nephew, tries his hardest to shield his cousin from the drugs, but living in a house with a meth lab in the kitchen proves difficult. He fears for her life and is desperate to escape the mire of drugs and dependence.
When Sonny (Xander Berkeley) – Abe’s father, Bump’s brother – returns after being away for two and a half years, Abe is optimistic. Sonny has kicked his addiction to crystal meth and moved beyond his past indiscretions. He wants to reconnect with the son who always wished for his safe return home. And for much of the film Sonny tries to reach out to Abe, wanting to pull him and his niece out of the mire created in his absence.
David Pomes doesn’t chicken out and intersperse little Hallmark card-esque moments to elevate the mood. Instead, Cook County goes for the jugular with its gritty reality; authenticity permeates every frame. Issues of dependency are not whitewashed. In one scene, Bump’s father, who dies of a meth overdose, is buried with a small baggie of crystal meth placed upon his corpse. Later, Bump digs him up with his bare hands in order to retrieve the baggie.
Anson Mount is an actor who is selective in the projects he chooses, although he did appear opposite of Brittany Spears in Crossroads. Don’t judge him on that movie, please. This guy has the goods to be one of the best. Classically trained, his performance in Cook County is of someone who is unlikeable, soulless, and psychotic. He has no revelatory moments, as he’s always conflicted emotionally. He would as quick as shoot you dead if you got in the way of his fix. Though his character is not to be cheered, Mount’s performance should be embraced as one of the year’s best.
Ryan Donowho and Xander Berkley are strong in their roles of Abe and Sonny, as well. Abe is someone who is trapped in a life he can’t escape. He is the in-between between two polar opposite characters, Bump (the faithless) and Sonny (the hopeful). Sinewy in a wife-beater tank top and tattered blue jeans, his daily struggles are etched with each and every cigarette drag he takes – the nicotine calming his nerves if only for a minute’s peace. Together, all three actors elevate the material and the film as a whole.
Which begs the question of why this film hasn’t been picked up for distribution. With standout performances and subject matter that is germane to the times in which we live, Cook County presents drug addiction as a matter of fact. It may not have the visual punch of Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream, but Pomes’ debut feature is still a marvel of independent filmmaking and needs to be seen on a wider scale.
FINAL RATING (ON A SCALE OF 1-5 BUCKETS):
Upcoming screenings for Cook County:
Houston – River Oaks Theatre
Thurs. Aug 20th at 7:30
Tues. Aug. 25th at 7:30
Dallas – Lakewood Theatre
Sat. Aug. 22nd at 8:00
Austin – Dobie Theatre
Thur. Aug. 27th at 7:30
Houston – Studio Movie Grill at Town & Country Mall
starting Fri. Sept. 4th
Little Rock – Market Street Cinema
starting Fri., Sept. 11th
Travis Leamons is one of the Inside Pulse Originals and currently holds the position of Managing Editor at Inside Pulse Movies. He's told that the position is his until he's dead or if "The Boss" can find somebody better. I expect the best and I give the best. Here's the beer. Here's the entertainment. Now have fun. That's an order!
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