19 March 2008 | larry-411
Truly original, gripping, and unpredictable
"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.