Koch Vision // 2005 // 98 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Christopher Kulik (Retired) // March 27th, 2009
Money, lust, addiction...who's left to trust?
Auteur filmmaker Matt Farnsworth was shocked to discover his hometown in Iowa turn into a haven for crystal meth addicts. One particular case turned out to be ripe enough for the documentary treatment: a girl named Amber McNeeley nearly died while using meth. The 2003 result, Poor Man's Dope, was unflinching in how Amber burned 60% of her entire body over a fix. Two years later, Farnsworth felt the need to shoot a feature film inspired by the doc, which enjoyed some critical notice on the festival circuit, even winning Best Picture at the Midwest Indie Film Festival. Still, does this make Iowa worth watching?
Lowlife bum Esper Harte (Farnsworth) is informed by attorney Irv Huffman (John Savage, The Deer Hunter) that he's due to receive $200,000 from his late father's estate. It seems like a perfect opportunity to get his life straight, but his skank of a mom (Rosanna Arquette, Nowhere To Run) will not allow him to leave with the money. She recruits her brutal lover (and local cop) Larry (Michael T. Wiess, Howling IV) to arrest Esper and throw him in jail. As luck would have it, Esper manages to get out thanks to his girlfriend Donna (Diane Foster), and -- after sampling some of his father's "product" (methamphetamine) -- they decide to rejuvenate the business before getting out of town.
Whereas the doc had a purpose, Iowa is really contrived junk disguising itself as a potent drug drama, a la Requiem For A Dream. Somehow, Farnsworth -- along with his production partner/co-star Foster -- was able to recruit some big names here, but the story is one giant cliché, with characters who make no sense and are impossible to care about. The director surely shows some visual flair, but we've seen it all before. Farnsworth tries hard to keep our attention with grittiness and explicit sex, but there's an amateurish approach here which makes one think of a girl playing with Ken and Barbie dolls in the princess' own meth lab. Only Andrew Parke's lush cinematography stands out as Iowa's one noteworthy element; the rest is unpleasant and unmemorable.
Koch Vision steps up to the plate to give this indie flick a respectable DVD treatment. The 1.85:1 anamorphic print looks terrific considering the budget. Colors, flesh tones, and black levels are all sharp and very little grain was detected. The stereo mix is not as effective, although the dialogue is easily heard with or without the English subtitles. Extras include a trailer and two versions of the same documentary. "Poor Man's Dope," is the original 2003 version which runs 37 minutes and "Dying For Meth" is a longer version which was constructed in 2006. Of the two, the original is more piercing, as the latter feels too much like a poorly edited MTV version which strips nearly all of the shoestring qualities of its predecessor for something more commercial. Still, both versions are welcome, considering the fact that Farnsworth didn't feel the need to come out for a commentary on Iowa; on the other hand, maybe it's just as well.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Koch Vision
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Not Rated