Directed by Mad Men’s John Slattery and based on the novel by Pete Dexter – God’s Pocket is set in a blue-collar suburb of Philadelphia of the same name, where everyone’s a bit down in the dumps, a bit drunk and a bit worn out. During the grim times – the community’s confidence comes from a heavy veil of booze, being proud of who they are and a deep mistrust of outsiders.
One of these outsiders is Mickey Scarpato (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who is married to the local bombshell Jeanie (Christina Hendricks) and has found himself an exception to the rule. Things get interesting when his revolting stepson Leon (Caleb Landry Jones) dies during an ‘accident’ at his construction job. It’s now up to Mickey to plan the memorial and find out the truth of what really happened.
Mickey has a bad few days. Jeanie isn’t talking to him, he loses all the funeral money on a bet (donated from the regulars at the local pub – god bless ‘em) and Leon’s body has been thrown out on to the street by funeral director Smilin’ Jack (Eddie Marsan) who’s as scummy as they get. Mickey has no choice but to hide the body in the meat truck till he scrapes the money together, ironically by trying to sell the meat that’s inside the truck and the truck itself. Meanwhile, his wife is off having a picnic and shenanigans with the newspaper columnist (who also is looking into her son’s death) and he’s left chasing his truck down the main street of town – ending in an accident where the meat and the body are both tossed out on the road for everyone to see.
The premise sounds like a dark comedy – but sadly doesn’t translate to one. When you should feel for Mickey and maybe just laugh at the situation he got himself in, I just felt frustrated. You don’t really empathise or understand any of the characters because they all seem lifeless in their misery and possibly because they are completely miscast (even Hoffman can’t completely pull off a type of guy to wear a distressed yellow polo shirt). The relationship between Mickey and Jeannie lacks any kind of emotion or chemistry and I find it hard to believe they got together in the first place, especially because he’s such a loser. Why did she have to look for a low life husband outside of God’s Pocket when there’s plenty of them already in the neighbourhood?
The film has a few positives. Lance Accord (Where The Wild Things Are, Lost in Translation) has done a beautiful job with his cinematography. He has made every shot feel like it’s drenched in melancholy and almost like you are looking at this working-class suburb through a half empty beer glass. The performances of the leads are quite subtle and genuine (watching Hoffman try to move the corpse and be gentle with at the same time is so uncomfortable that it works) and there’s a surprisingly spirited performance by Joyce Van Patten (who plays the town’s florist you don’t want to mess with) that finally injects the much needed energy and humour.
God’s Pocket feels for me – discombobulated. It’s all a bit mismatched and inconsistent. The tone is confusing, it’s not sure when to be funny or how and it’s a drama that’s not quite dramatic enough. And while Slattery has done well creating this moment in time authentically, he hasn’t given us a reason to care for any of the characters. Perhaps in the process of moving the story from novel to screen, we may have missed out on something brilliant.
[youtube id=”GnmxL3t-pxY” width=”620″ height=”360″]