Dr. Donna Copeland’s
PHILLIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN RICHARD JENKINS CHRISTINA HENDRICKS
JOHN TURTURRO EDDIE MARSAN
We are down to the final four films Oscar winner Phillip Seymour Hoffman will ever appear in. Unfortunately for everyone, God’s Pocket is not one of those great swan songs for Hoffman or anyone involved. Most viewers know John Slattery from his onscreen work in Mad Men or playing Tony Stark’s father in Iron Man, but in God’s Pocket he is behind the camera calling the shots as director. Slattery directed a handful of episodes on Mad Men, but makes his feature film directorial debut in this gritty narrative where there are no heroes or good guys, only those who despise anyone not born in their crummy little city.
The only thing the citizens of God’s Pocket hate are people who are not from God’s Pocket. Mickey Scarpato (Hoffman) married a local girl, Jeanie (Hendricks), whose son Leon (Caleb Landry Jones) was killed at work under suspicious circumstances. Dabbling in various jobs to earn a living in the drunk and crime filled town, Mickey doesn’t have the money for his stepson’s funeral and doesn't have the ability to calm his hysterical wife. Famed New York Times writer Richard Shellburn (Jenkins), who often writes about “The Pocket”, is sent to cover the story, but one look at Jeanie and he has his hands on a different objective.
It’s always difficult to deliver a film with no moral high ground, especially when all of the characters reek of disgust, mentally or physically. Hoffman is no stranger to these sorts of characters; it’s something he has built a career on. But here, for all his persuasive acting, he is drowned by the lack of light from the script. Oscar nominee Jenkins takes on the sleaziest role of his career while Slattery’s Mad Men co-star Hendricks continues her one note feature film persona.
In a film with this much crime and cult-like behavior, you only get to see characters making the worst of decisions. If you are looking for violence, it’s sparse but when it’s on screen it’s serious, eye gouging, and granny with a gun kind of violence. The violence, ironically, is the lighter moments of the film. The central meeting point of the story is the local bar where the drunks hang out all day and the working (or cheating class) come to socialize at night. “Dirty faced, uneducated and neat as a pin on the inside, sit and argue about things they don’t understand,” Shellburn describes God’s Pocket inhabitants, and no one in this town gets off easy by telling the truth.
Final Thought – Drowns in its own despair. Slattery should stay onscreen instead of behind the camera.
By: Dustin Chase
This is one of those disturbing works about working class neighborhoods, where law is more functional than a precept to follow, and anyone coming in from the outside is not to be trusted. People are hard pressed to earn a living in God’s Pocket, a Philadelphia neighborhood, and usually must resort to some kind business on the side in order to make it. Mickey (Hoffman) is a case in point. He is married to Jeanie (Hendricks), who has a grown son, Leon (Caleb Landry Jones), living with them. Leon is a smart aleck who manages to get himself killed, purportedly in an accident at work on a construction site.
His mother Jeanie is devastated, and enlists any help she can to uncover the real reason behind his death. When she talks about him, it’s as if he were ten years old, so it’s clear she has no insight into his personality. Jeanie is a woman who is able to arouse a man’s penchant for heroism, so there are a number of them working on the case, as well as the police. In the meantime, we get a picture of Mickey’s business with Bird (Turturro), and the odd twists and turns it takes, but finally linking it up with Leon, someone who, in a sense, dies twice.
God’s Pocket is based on a novel by Peter Dexter, a writer who grew up in a similar neighborhood and had similar experiences in life as his characters in this story. It is dark, and seems to show little sympathy for people who sit in bars and make up their minds about important events based more on gossip than objective reports. The point of the film is not clear, and although the intent is probably to show a “slice of life” portrait of an American neighborhood, that doesn’t come across. A bit of black humor is inserted towards the end, but it is too late and not all that funny anyway.
Hoffman’s acting is impeccable, as always, as is John Turturro’s and Eddie Marsan’s. But these performances cannot elevate the story from its depths.