This review was originally published on April 1, 2008…
Meth, crack, cocaine, heroin… name your drug, wrap your film around the dealing and abuses thereof and you have instant drama. The problem is, most of those drug genre films are so degenerate in their portrayal that they go beyond the effectiveness of being a cautionary tale and steer into the world of over-the-top caricature propaganda. Of course, to quote “South Park’s” Mr. Mackey, “drugs are bad,” but not every drug dealer dies in a hail of bullets during a shoot-out with the cops; not every abuser dies of a blue-hued, sweat-and-tear stained overdose while the Velvet Underground plays in the background. The reality is that most just wind down and fade away over a long period of time, achieving importance and prestige in their own minds, but nowhere else.
“Cook County” tells the tale of Bump (Anson Mount), drug dealer extraordinaire of a small town in Texas, and his immediate family. His older brother Sonny (Xander Berkeley) just got out of jail, and is rejoining the family in an effort to restore some bit of familial normalcy (which appears to mean helping Bump with the drug trade and generally loafing around the house). Sonny’s son Abe (Ryan Donowho) is the moral conscience of the family, having lived with Bump during Sonny’s incarceration and spending the majority of his time trying to protect Bump’s young daughter Deandra (Makenna Fitzsimmons) from the influence and effects of the family trade.
“Cook County” excels primarily due to the acting merits of Anson Mount. Mount portrays Bump as one of the more menacing, and yet pathetic, drug dealers ever to grace cinema. Big fish in a small pond, high on his own supply, you get the feeling Bump only does what he does because, quite simply, he’s bored out of his mind. Put Bump in a big city, drug-dealing locale, however, and it’s pretty much a given that he’d find himself run out on a rail… if not rolled under a bus.
Xander Berkeley’s Sonny is the exact opposite of his meth-tweaking brother. Having paid his prison dues, Sonny is calm and cool, playing along but really trying to find the best exit strategy for his son and niece. For most of the film, we know he’s up to something, but you don’t necessarily trust that his solution, as well thought-out as it may be, will actually be the right one either.
The other major component of success for the film is the unique take on the drug culture film genre by placing the entirety of events in a small Texas town. Normal conventions are flipped on their ear when the main drug runners spend their days talking about fishing lures, drinking beers, tweaking and generally just letting life pass them by, one sunset after another. This isn’t Nino Brown and the Cash Money Brothers, this is Bump and the, uh, Cook County Bump-kins.
Which brings more of a realistic tone to the piece, because this is more along the lines of how the meth trade really operates. Bunch of bored nobodies tweaking on their own goods, cooking drugs in their apartments, cottages or backwoods sheds. It’s just a shame such do-it-yourself ambition has to be wasted on meth. Sorry, let me step off the soapbox now…
“Cook County” is a welcome change to the drug culture film genre, a film that is matter-of-fact in its portrayal, charismatic in its character study and generally lacking in that overwhelming decay and dread that permeates throughout films like “Requiem for a Dream.” This is not to say that the film doesn’t have its gruesome moments; the final ten minutes are particularly rough. Instead of beating you over the head with the gloom, however, “Cook County” just lets the film play, the drugs run their course and the outcome sneak up on you. Well, as much as they can because, as we all know, “drugs are bad.”