Directed by: John Slattery
Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, John Turturro, Christina Hendricks, Richard Jenkins, Eddie Marsan, Caleb Landry Jones
When young tearaway Leon (Landry Jones) is killed by a fellow co-worker in retaliation for racial bullying, his co-workers cover up the incident, passing off his death as the fault of an industrial accident. The boy's mother Jeannie (Hendricks), however, refuses to accept this explanation, and asks her deadbeat husband Mickey (Hoffman), a low level criminal, to use his underworld connections to uncover the truth. Meanwhile, alcoholic reporter Richard Shelburn (Jenkins) is assigned to sniff out the real story, but displays an unprofessional interest in Jeannie. Mickey must also figure out a way to raise the $6000 required to bury his stepson.
God's Pocket opens, like Sidney Lumet's Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, with Hoffman engaged in sweaty coitus with a partner who seems well out of his league; in this case Christina Hendricks, who looks as out of place in this film's gritty surroundings as Kim Novak did in The Man with the Golden Arm. Like Preminger's film, God's Pocket takes place in a fetishised Hollywood conception of what an American working class neighbourhood looks like, all flags on front lawns and heaving backstreet bars. It's a depiction that's about as convincing as Preminger's studio bound film was six decades ago.
I'm not sure what tone John Slattery was striving for, but his finished film plays like a parody of post-Kazan working class melodrama. He's filled his movie with cliched characters, most of whom have plot strands that remain unresolved by the story's conclusion. The main plotline, involving Hoffman's pathetic attempts to see his stepson buried, regularly veers into Weekend at Bernie's territory. Like Hoffman, Jenkins is far too dignified an actor for this material, and his journalist is one of the most laughably cliched representations of that trade.
God's Pocket is a film packed with ludicrous moments, one that asks us to believe guys that look like Hoffman and Jenkins would have a chance with someone that looks like Hendricks, that someone as obnoxious as Landry Jones' bratty teen could last more than a day in a job without being severely beaten by his coworkers, and hardest to swallow of all, that the portly Hoffman could outrun a bus.
It's never made clear when this story is set. The absence of cellphones suggests it may take place in the 80s, when the Pete Dexter source novel was published, but some of the haircuts seem a little anachronistic for that time. It's a time when pretty young college girls are attracted to 60-year-old alcoholic writers, so it's certainly not set anytime in recent memory.
There currently seems to be a mini-revival of the sort of awful postmodern crime dramas that plagued independent American cinema in the mid-90s, and God's Pocket is easily the biggest misfire. While those 90s movies generally followed Tarantino's lead in opting for a sunny LA locale, the new wave favours the overcast neighbourhoods of the working class East Coast. It's a world where bowling shirts and brown leather jackets seemingly never go out of style, one populated by the same handful of never short for work Italian-American character actors.
The late Philip Seymour Hoffman has a couple more movies due to be released before we can finally draw the curtains on his career, which is just as well, because no actor deserves to go out on a film as bad as God's Pocket.
By Eric Hillis
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