J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Meth and Facial Hair: Cook County

Dealing crystal meth ought to be pretty darn recession-proof, but “Uncle Bump” has still found ways to mismanage his business. Like Tony Montana, he has become his own best customer. This leads to some rather tense moments for his family in David Pomes’ Cook County (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in New York.

Abe is miserable living with his drug-addled uncle. Acting as the gopher for the slipshod meth operation, Abe is regularly sent into to town to buy up all the cold medicine from the oblivious general store. However, he forces himself to stay, so he can watch out for his little cousin. Though not explicitly abusive towards her, Bump opens up their home to all kinds of unsavory elements. Honest Abe initially hopes things will improve when his father, confusingly named Sonny, returns home from a stretch in the big house. However, it quickly becomes clear there simply will be no talking to Bump, while Sonny appears to have his own secretive agenda.

Cook should not be considered a redneck Scarface. Despite the madness engulfing Bump, Pomes de-emphasizes the genre elements, opting instead for a grittily naturalistic vibe. As a result, viewers do not have an action-driven escape hatch whenever Pomes shows us something disturbing (which he does, often). Rather, we are essentially stuck there, forced to revel in the meanness of it all.

While such white trash voyeurism is fairly shopworn indie grist, Cook is notable for allowing a pair of dependable character actors a turn in the spotlight. Currently generating some career heat in AMC’s Hell on Wheels, Anson Mount is frighteningly intense as the increasingly paranoid Bump. He certainly looks like a psycho-junkie. Yet, it is Xander Berkeley (the ill-fated George Mason on 24) who really delivers the goods as Sonny. He convincingly creates a multifaceted portrait of a tragically Machiavellian small-timer.

As a salvo in the cultural wars, Cook is largely a wash. The Evangelical rich relations in Houston really are portrayed as good-hearted God-fearing people. On the other hand, Bump’s periodic preening in front of American flags certainly seems to imply a commentary on Red State voters and values. There are some meaty performances in Cook, but viewers will know exactly where it is headed and it is not a lot of fun getting there. It opens tomorrow (12/16) in New York at the Cinema Village, just in time for the holidays.

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