Director: John Slattery.
Screenplay: Alex Metcalf, John Slattery.
Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Richard Jenkins, John Turturro, Christina Hendricks, Eddie Marsan, Domenick Lombardozzi, Caleb Landry Jones, Peter Gerety, Glenn Fleshler, Prudence Wright Jones, Jack O’Connell.
“I don’t know why writing down what everybody knows, is any better than knowing it in the first place”
Along with A Most Wanted Man, God’s Pocket was sadly one of only two remaining lead performances from the late Philip Seymour Hoffman – after his untimely death in 2014 to a heroine overdose. For this alone, it’s worth reminding yourself what a great talent this man was and how the medium of film will forever miss his astonishing onscreen presence. If truth be told, it’s not a role that requires him to do very much and the film itself continually switches tones but like many other movies featuring this fantastic actor, it benefits from his commitment and his everyman naturalism.
After a mysterious construction ‘accident’, where his step-son Leon (Caleb Landry Jones) is killed, street hustler Mickey Scarpato (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is urged by the boys mother (Christina Hendricks) to find out what actually happened and to give the boy a decent burial. Mickey tries his best to investigate with the help of his friend Bird (John Turturro) but things go from bad to worse when Mickey gambles the funeral money and is left with a body he can’t bury and a debt he can’t pay as a local columnist (Richard Jenkins) begins to expose the events.
A sombre, lowbrow mood piece that’s very much character driven and has an authentic feel for it’s titular working class, Philadelphia neighbourhood, God’s Pocket. It’s inhabitants are seemingly stuck in their turgid, everyday lives where in order to make ends meet, they are forced into one scam or another. There are few redeeming characters in this tiny corner of the world but debutant director John Slattery (Roger Sterling from TV’s Mad Men) gives us an inside, almost fly-on-the-wall, look at how these blue collar crooks operate. The subject matter is certainly grim and cinematographer Lance Acord paints a suitably bleak picture. However, despite the stark nature, before you know it the film shifts from being a character drama to a very black comedy and it’s here that Slattery’s inexperience in calling the shots comes to the fore. Considering that the film starts so seriously, a sudden burst of humour comes as a real surprise and it takes a while to adjust. Once you accept that this, though, the black comedic moments become better timed. It’s certainly tonally uneven and you get the sense that Slattery is a little out of his depth in balancing it all but he does manage to deliver many excellent scenes, has a fantastic eye for detail and draws out superb performances from his entire cast.
This bodes well for the the directorial future of John Slattery but it’s just a damn shame that we won’t see much more from Hoffman. Not that I’m the religious type but if I was, I’d like to think that Hoffman has found centre stage in the pocket of God and it’s a pocket I wouldn’t hesitate to pick to bring him back to us. In such a short time, he proved to be one of the screen greats.
Trivia: Both John Slattery and Christina Hendricks appeared in Mad Men from it’s beginning in 2007 till it’s final episodes in 2015, while Hoffman and Turturro both had small roles in the Coen brothers’ The Big Lebowski.