Meth in His Madness
Published on December 20th, 2011 | by Charles H. Meyer2
“Cook County” is now showing at Cinema Village and AMC Empire 25.
Running time: 93 minutes. Rated R.
I’d pay good money to see a no-holds-barred fistfight between John Hawkes, who plays Patrick, the creepy cult leader in Sean Durkin’s widely praised “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” and Anson Mount, who plays Bump, a freewheeling, meth-enamored, depraved monster of a human being in David Pomes’s “Cook County.” If the Academy Awards included an Oscar for the edgiest, most unsettling portrayal of a skinny white sociopathic hippie, Hawkes and Mount would be the frontrunners among this year’s nominees. Between the two of them, though, I’d vote for Mount.
“Cook County” is set mainly in and around a meth lab-equipped shack in rural Alabama during a long hot summer. You can almost smell the Deep Woods Off. With the one-two slug of his forceful personality and lanky but muscular physicality, Bump reigns terrifyingly over his filthy little kingdom, where every waking hour is devoted to the praising and partaking of meth and to the decidedly non-scintillating conversations it inspires. “Meth is the truth,” he tells a strung-out teenage girl as he offers her his pipe, niftily made out of a light bulb. “I want to be the Paul Revere of meth.”
Thankfully, we soon encounter a much saner soul in Bump’s teenage nephew Abe (Ryan Donowho), who has somehow managed to stay relatively clean and to gain a healthy modicum of wise wariness despite a horrific home life. Bump, who turns out to be rather schizophrenically paranoid of the law and who never stays sober long enough to risk going out in public, regularly sends Abe out to the local convenience store to buy suspiciously large quantities of meth-making supplies. What endears Abe to us is the fatherly protectiveness he shows towards Bump’s very young (6? 7?) daughter Deandra (Makenna Fitzsimmons), who, like Abe–indeed, thanks to Abe–has retained a sweet, unspoiled innocence in the midst of the meth-mad world in which she has grown up. It seems, at least, that if Abe and Deandra can only escape from the evil ogre who lords over them, then they’ll be fine. Unfortunately, every chance that he gets, Bump tries to make Deandra take a puff of meth; and every time this happens, Abe intervenes at the last minute. Nothing makes us hate Bump more (and love Abe more) than these recurring incidents.
Early in the film, in rides Sonny (Xander Berkeley), Abe’s long-absent father, in a brand-new pickup truck. Sonny has been “away” but doesn’t want to tell his son where. He is determined to fly right and to finally be a good dad; but it turns out that he is the master meth chef who brought the cursed substance into the family to begin with, turning his younger brother Bump into a meth zealot and even making their meek, silent, brittle old father (Tommy Townsend) into a meth-head. We cautiously admire Sonny, though. It’s clear that he genuinely wants to do right by his family. (Of course, next to Bump, anyone looks like a nice guy.) But trying to get a job as an ex-con in a horrible economy proves too daunting a challenge, and the lure of meth, which he is a seasoned pro at whipping up in the lab, proves too great. So the brothers’ pathetic, idiotic pal Fat Earl (Rutherford Cravens) is sent out to the convenience store for more meth ingredients, Sonny prepares a mother lode of meth, and Fat Earl is (absurdly) sent out to sell the stuff. It’s obvious that Sonny is too smart to send someone so stupid out on such a risky mission, so something fishy is clearly afoot. But I won’t say more, lest I spoil the plot.
In spite of the horrors it depicts, the saddest of which I haven’t even hinted at, “Cook County” is an unexpectedly beautiful little film in its fine acting and well-photographed, naturalistic setting. It’s one of the most recent reminders of a curious paradox of contemporary cinema–that some of the least expensive films can give the viewer something more than the most over-budgeted, multimillion-dollar blockbusters can: a feeling of directness, of closeness to the world, to lived reality, to human beings, to raw human experiences and emotions that all the thick globs of special effects, color manipulations, and bombast in movies such as “War Horse” and “Hugo” obscure beyond all recognition, leaving this viewer, at least, rather cold and unimpressed.