Cook County/2009/Hannover House/93 min.
First-time writer/director David Pomes says he filmed “Cook County” in a way that would take the audience into the dismal world of crystal meth users in the woods of East Texas. True to his aim, the film does seem to live and breathe a sweaty, strung-out realness.
Bump (Anson Mount) heads the household, which means he uses heavily, holds parties and snarls orders. His brother Sonny (Xander Berkeley), newly released from prison, struggles to stay clean and to reconnect with his 17-year-old son, wary and watchful Abe (Ryan Donowho). Bump and Sonny’s ghostlike father (Tommy Townsend) listlessly awaits his next hit.
It falls to Abe to take care of Bump’s little girl Deandra (Makenna Fitzsimmons) and protect her from her father, who’s not above bragging that he could put a bullet in her head if he wanted to. As Bump grows increasingly paranoid and unhinged, Abe must commit a fearsome act in order to keep Deandra safe.
Pomes skillfully evokes not just the “party” atmosphere but the bleak day-to-day existence of these desperate, seemingly doomed men. (Director of photography Brad Rushing used Super 16mm handheld for much the movie.) The writing is good and Pomes elicits authentic performances from his cast.
Mount nearly glows with menace as he becomes increasingly disconnected from reality. Berkeley brings scruffy amiability and lambent hopefulness to his part. Sonny wants something better but sees few ways out. Donowho is expressive and interesting to watch.
Unfortunately, once at the party, there’s not much to do. Yes, we see tension simmer between the brothers. We witness father/son confrontations. Beyond that, however, the plot is fairly thin. If you’ve never seen “Breaking Bad” or read about the problem of crystal-meth addiction, “Cook County” will open your eyes. But eye-opening realism and banjo music does not a story make.
“Cook County” opens today in LA and New York; it will play elsewhere starting Jan. 27.