1 Hr., 36 Mins.
Meth Storm February 2, 2018
o many, meth addiction is a faraway concept most often seen in clickbaiting “before and after” picture slideshows or episodes of Breaking Bad. We know the problem exists, but the severity is so often turned into a spectacle that it’s not unheard of to want to turn away from investigating a bigger issue.
Contrastly, Meth Storm, a new HBO documentary directed by filmmakers Brent and Craig Renaud (Dope Sick Love, Little Rock Central: 50 Years Later), gives us a scorchingly honest inside look into the aforementioned drug crisis. It is a harrowing, formidably intimate fly-on-the-wall viewing
experience, disquietingly depicting the tenuous relationship between victims of meth addiction and the law enforcers trying to stop them.
But it is also so much more than that. Rather than comprehensively look at a national problem and thus sacrifice intimacy, the Renauds smartly confine the film to one setting: rural Arkansas, specifically Faulkner County. It puts a spotlight on a single family whose existence has been ravaged both by addiction and dealing, and it also shines a light on the local DEA agents trying to thwart meth’s spread. (One officer heartbreakingly reveals that many of the individuals he’s arrested have been people he grew up with, signaling that this issue is a scarily recent phenomenon.) What unfolds is something of a cinematic equivalent of a longform, non-fictional narrative.
By so closely examining these individuals and their circumstances (the film never bombards us with extensive statistics or nationwide trends), Meth Storm manages to additionally touch upon the pitfalls of class disparity and the repercussions that come with vast economic gaps between communities. It reasons that Faulkner County is so unusually susceptible to the meth market because the unemployment rate is so frighteningly low. Because the majority of its few residents live well below the poverty line and are therefore incapable of overcoming their struggles.
Dealing is so widespread because there are few other ways to make money; recovery is not an option because the opportunities are both not around and not financially feasible. According to the film, 90 percent of the methamphetamine consumed in America comes over the border from Mexico, and the desperate residents of Faulkner County are just one of the communities involved in the crisis. It does not appear as though the issue will ever be resolved.
Some viewers might be turned off by Meth Storm’s pessimism. It scrutinizes a major problem in America without offering solutions, without reasoning that maybe there are ways to overpower the issue at its forefront. But I find such things to be examples of why the movie is so powerful: because it is so honest, it encourages us to reevaluate our own preconceived notions about meth addiction and look at the larger issue with empathy. Though it sometimes flirts with tedium as a result of its no-frills narrative, Meth Storm is nonetheless an admirably unsentimentalized portrait of meth addiction. B+
This review also appeared in The Daily.