Not much below the surface in 'God's Pocket'
Not much below the surface in ‘God’s Pocket’

God’s Pocket is a terrible neighborhood filled with terrible people. This fictional corner of Philadelphia is packed with criminals and degenerates unworthy of the “blue-collar” label they are routinely slapped with.

The movie “God’s Pocket” revels in rolling around in the gutter with these lowlifes and while it has some interesting moments and flashes of brilliance, there’s not much below the surface to justify getting our hands dirty.

This movie will garner the most attention for being one of the few posthumous performances of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s to trickle out over the next year or so. Because of this, I found myself paying extra attention to him and appreciating what a truly effortless actor he was.

Hoffman is undeniably great here as Mickey Scarpato, a resident of God’s Pocket who seems out of place because he wasn’t born in the neighborhood. Oh sure, Mickey is a criminal, gambler, and probably an alcoholic; but the guy is a beacon of morality compared to the scumbags that surround him.

Events swirl after Mickey’s stepson Leon (Caleb Landry Jones), possibly the baddest apple in the whole rotten bunch, is killed on a construction site. Mickey’s wife Jeanie (Christina Hendricks, making the best of a criminally underwritten role) is understandably upset and Mickey does his best to do right by her, but the prevailing underhanded winds of the neighborhood make that virtually impossible.

The funeral director (Eddie Marsan) is an opportunistic swindler, the local newspaper columnist (Richard Jenkins) is a raging alcoholic and womanizer, and Mickey’s best friend (John Turturro) is a dim deadbeat that owes money all over town.

“God’s Pocket” is the feature directing debut of actor John Slattery, best known for playing Roger Sterling on “Mad Men.”

Slattery is a technically competent director with an excellent sense of place. Set in the late 1970s to early 1980s, he saturates the movie in this era, all the way down to the washed-out color tones.

But Slattery struggles with tone, and the script he co-wrote with Alex Metcalf winds up chasing its own tail a bit so by the time he tries to inject some levity into the movie it gets swallowed up by the bleakness he spent so much time cultivating.

If anything, Slattery is an actor’s director as the cast shines all around in spite of the movie’s flaws and if you see this movie, odds are you are going to see it for Hoffman. He looks rough as hell in this film and it’s hard to tell how much he is committing to the role and how much of it is the lifestyle that eventually killed him.

At any rate, if you are someone who appreciates great acting, even in a movie that has a lot of problems, then it will be worth your while to seek out “God’s Pocket.” Otherwise, you’ll probably be happier steering clear of the place.

“God’s Pocket” is rated R for violence, language throughout, and sexual content.

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