Mad Men’s John Slattery makes his feature directorial debut with God’s Pocket, an adaptation of Pete Dexter’s novel of the same name. The film features one of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s final performances, but is it any good? Well, that may be in the eye of the beholder.
God’s Pocket is a slice of life film that will not appeal to everyone. The screenplay, co-written by Slattery and Alex Metcalf, is a drama sprinkled liberally with dark comedy. There is no grand, overarching plot as the film tells the stories of a small neighborhood in Philadelphia called God’s Pocket. The neighborhood is a tight-knit, working class community with its fair share of graft and shady dealings. The main story focuses on Mickey (Hoffman), a man who married into the Pocket, and his struggle to make ends meet as he makes arrangements for his stepson’s funeral. His wife, Jeanie (Christina Hendricks), is inconsolable about the death of her son, Leon (Caleb Landry Jones), and feels that there is more to the story than what the police are offering her. Meanwhile, Mickey’s friend and business associate, Arthur (John Turturro), is in deep to a local gangster, Sal (Domenick Lombardozzi). On the outer edges of all this is the story of Richard Shelburn (Richard Jenkins), a longtime newspaper columnist, local celebrity, and alcoholic. Shelburn is in the midst of coasting through the end of his career and into an early grave when his editor puts him on the story about what really happened to Leon. The assignment will change his life in ways he couldn’t imagine.
The biggest problem with God’s Pocket is that at only 88 minutes, it doesn’t afford all the stories the proper amount of screen time. The focus is on Mickey, as it should be, but that makes Shelburn’s story come off as disjointed. His tale takes some strange turns that come out of nowhere. However, I really enjoyed the film’s mix of drama and comedy. The shifts in tone weren’t a problem for me, but I enjoy a good dark comedy and this film hit the right spot for me.
For the most part, the performances are great. Hoffman and Jenkins are magnificent, while Turturro does a real nice job with his part. Hendricks does well with her part, but she’s also a bit of the weak link here. At times, her emotions and thoughts are inscrutable as she does a lot of wordless acting, with a blank look on her face. That makes her decisions a little head-scratching at times. Eddie Marsan also puts in a great turn as the mortician, Smiling Jack.
Overall, God’s Pocket isn’t a film for everyone. Personally, I liked its mix of humor and drama, but its narrative isn’t always clear, which proved to be frustrating as the stories dovetailed together. It’s good to see if only for one of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s final performances, but your mileage will vary if you can appreciate an indie film that forces the audience to fill in some of the blanks. It’s a solid start to Slattery’s feature directorial career, but would have benefitted more from a deeper script.