God’s Pocket, 2014.
Directed by John Slattery.
Starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Christina Hendricks, Richard Jenkins, John Turturro and Eddie Marsan.
A low-level petty criminal tries to cover up the suspicious death of his no-good stepson while his wife tries to uncover the truth with the help of a drunken newspaper journalist.
In his final film before his untimely death, Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master/Boogie Nights) plays Mickey Scarpato, a petty criminal who makes a living stealing trucks and selling knocked-off sides of beef, splitting the profits with his friend Arthur (John Turturro – Transformers). Mickey lives in God’s Pocket, a run-down and insular part of Philadelphia where crime is rife and everybody looks after their own, and is married to Jeanie (Christina Hendricks – Drive) whose son Leon (Caleb Landry Jones – The Last Exorcism) works on a local building site and is a drug addict, which leads him to being killed after racially abusing a co-worker whilst high. Christina is loathe to accept the official explanation that Leon’s death was an accident and is contacted by drunken newpaper reporter Richard Shellburn (Richard Jenkins – The Cabin in the Woods) who is sent by his boss to investigate, but whilst Mickey is also unsure of what really happened he is also trying to raise the money to pay for the funeral but is unable to stop screwing up.
In a similar way to city slum-based dramas like Sleepers or any number of Martin Scorcese crime thrillers, God’s Pocket does a wonderful job in setting itself up using its location. Straight away you know you’re in a place where there’s not a lot of money, crime is a way of life and there is likely to be a very rich and eccentric collection of characters going about their everyday life and trying to survive the best way they can. This is reinforced by director John Slattery, who never really gives away too much about the actual neighbourhood or even the time in which the film is set (it’s supposed to be the 1980s), and it doesn’t take very long at all to get the gist of where you are and what is happening.
However, the collection of colourful characters that you are hoping for never really turn up and, except for Hoffman and Turturro as Mickey and Arthur, you never really get a full sense of who these people are, which also isn’t helped by some underwhelming performances. Jeanie should be one of the most interesting characters in the film as she is Mickey’s link to God’s Pocket – the fact he is not originally from the neighbourhood comes into play late in the story – and her potential story arc should have been one of the key plot points of the film but you never get a sense of who she is or what she is about, something that is made more obvious by Christina Hendricks’ catatonic performance. Her entanglement with Richard Shellburn is also quite confusing as what happens just happens with little or no reason as to why. The other characters that pop up don’t do a great deal but mention must go to British actor Eddie Marsan (The World’s End) as Jack Moran, the local funeral director with a permanent chip on his shoulder. It’s a strange bit of casting and, again, the character doesn’t come with much of a backstory but Marsan fills in the gaps with his performance and you genuinely believe he is from the US east coast rather than the UK East End.
But although the characters on the whole are a bit thin, the film itself is quite entertaining and is peppered with moments of dark humour that stop it wallowing in the misery that the characters are living in. Philip Seymour Hoffman deadpans his way through the film with some dry lines and subtle looks and ticks that give Mickey a bit of warmth (and he also does an excellent fall after tripping over a dead body that looks like it could have been quite painful), and he also has quite an endearing chemistry with John Turturro, who also has a likeable presence. Whilst God’s Pocket is quite enaging while you’re watching it you just get the feeling that it could have been a whole lot more than an 82 minute crime drama that tries to pack a lot in but doesn’t quite manage to get it all out in an entirely satisfactory way by the end, and when it ends you can’t help wondering what it was actually trying to say. Worth checking out if you’re a Philip Seymour Hoffman fan but it’s not his best and not as essential as it could or should have been.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★/ Movie: ★ ★ ★