God’s Pocket, 2014.
Directed by John Slattery.
Starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Christina Hendricks, Eddie Marsan, Richard Jenkins, John Turturro, Caleb Landry Jones, Jack O’Connell and Bill Buell.
In the working-class Philadelphia district of God’s Pocket, the suspicions of the residents are raised when a young manual labourer dies on site. His step-father attempts to cover the traces of the truth from everyone including a curious city journalist.
God’s Pocket’s blacker than oil humour is undoubtedly given extra poignancy by the fact that it will be one of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s last films. This sense of tragic loss hangs heavily over the film and is difficult for viewers to wholly put to one side, but in terms of objectivity we can give it a go…
With that said, God’s Pocket – the directorial film debut of Mad Men actor and sometime episode director John Slattery – is a distinctly patchy affair. It does manage to show some real glimpses of comedic drama of an absurdist sort, as Hoffman’s character attempts to extract some kind of meaning from an unfriendly and unlikeable town. However, these segments drift off into a uncollected rag tag of jumbled motivations and causes.
Based on Pete Dexter’s 1983 novel, the film’s rambling plot takes place at some point in the late 1970’s. Following the frozen meat salesman and driver for small time crooks Mickey (Hoffman) as he negotiates the precarious path of the tough district, the film is full of unpleasant characters going about a self-consciously bleak existence.
This grimness is aggressively accentuated by Mickey’s rabidly racist step-son Leon (Landry Jones) who one day gets what most think he deserves during an argument at work. Only his mother, played with an overwrought intensity by Christina Hendricks, has any real sympathy for her boy, who she clearly only saw one side of.
Into this mêlée of ill-feeling and confusion arrives Jenkins’s grizzled Philadephia local newspaper reporter who senses something amiss. His hard-drinking noir-lite journo isn’t much of a struggle for the ever-reliable character actor, but sadly the voice over is stilted at best. Bringing all sorts of shifts in gear to the production, from noir-detective to black comedy and ill judged romantic drama, the setting of a city journalist in blue-collar town could work, but here it doesn’t. Basically, it would need a much tighter hold of what it’s trying to do and precisely why in order to do that…
Presumably striving for a sense of small town Americana noir-comedy akin to a Coen Brothers type level, this falls pretty far short of its aims. Not entirely without merit – the scenes involving Hoffman and Eddie Marsan’s take on a Philly undertaker give out an enjoyably dry form of slapstick – the film’s visual sense is well distributed as it shows off a less than glamorous side of urban life in full colour. John Turturro is another welcome addition to the already well packed roster of stars in this uneven production. His local mob organiser and florist is a not entirely believable character but the American indie stalwart gives it his usual mixture of out-there humour and chutzpah.
Central to the story is the question, when is it right that someone should die? Unfortunately, the story does not grip enough for this question to actually have the power that it imagines it might. Ultimately, the characters are so unlovable that it is difficult to care exactly what happens to them.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert W Monk is a freelance journalist and film writer.