By Mark Saldana
Rating: 2.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
Actor John Slattery’s (Mad Men) directorial debut is definitely an interesting piece, reminiscent of Martin Scorsese’s earlier films (Who’s That Knocking at My Door, Mean Streets), capturing the day to day lives of the blue collar workers and low rent criminals of an old rough and tumble neighborhood. Though the film has interesting and entertaining characters, this dark comedy lacks a strong story to pull all of these miscreants together.
Philip Seymour Hoffman stars as Mickey Scarpato, a career criminal working the streets of God’s Pocket, an old and dirty neighborhood in South Philadelphia. Mickey’s stepson Leon (Caleb Landry Jones) gets killed in an on-the-job “accident”, but no one really seems to care, considering that Leon infamously made some enemies. Mickey is content with burying Leon and all of Leon’s past sins with him, but Mickey’s wife Jeanie (Christina Hendricks) is determined to discover the truth behind her son’s death. Adding to Mickey’s problem are his gambling debts, drinking problem, and his inability to pay for a decent funeral for stepson. It’s just another day in God’s Pocket, a neighborhood where everyone knows your name and your business.
Written by Alex Metcaff and John Slattery, based on Peter Dexter’s novel, God’s Pocket makes for an entertaining, slice-of-life portrait of these characters going nowhere in life. In fact, the film serves no other purpose than to mock and ridicule the inhabitants of this neighborhood. The scenarios are a mix of shocking violence and hilarious, sometimes absurd situations . Like the writing of a drunken journalist character of God’s Pocket played by the uber talented Richard Jenkins, Slattery and the writers seem to have a patronizing tone with their story and characters. There are times where Slattery and Metcaff seem to like their characters, but in the end, I left the film with the feeling that their approach is more contemptuous and not flattering.
I do think the film is worth viewing for the comedy that does work and for the cast members who deliver solid performances. The late Philip Seymour Hoffman perfectly portrays Mickey Scarpato, an unhappy and sometimes pathetic ne’er-do-well who has a handful of problems to fix before his stepson’s funeral. John Turturro doesn’t have a whole to do as Arthur “Bird” Carpezio, but does well with what little he is given. The gorgeous Christina Hendricks delivers a good, but not standout performance as the lost and depressed Jeanie Scarpato. In addition to Hoffman, I particularly enjoyed the performances of Richard Jenkins who portrays drunken journalist Richard Shellburn. and Eddie Marsan who plays Smilin Jack Maran, the owner of the neighborhood funeral home. Jenkins offers a hilarious turn, but his character seems very random, out of place and doesn’t really serve much of a purpose except for narrating the intro to the movie. Marsan offers some amusing comic relief as a funeral director with a hot temper that often gets him into bar room fights.
As much as I love to support independent films, I can’t honestly recommend spending top dollar to see this one. It is a promising start for Slattery who show some proficiency as a filmmaker, but the writing never elevates it beyond a curiosity piece which features some fine acting in one of the last performances by Philip Seymour Hoffman. This is one movie that is better left for renting, Netflix, or for viewing when it comes to a movie channel.