Mickey (Philip Seymour Hoffman) has married into the close-knit, blue collar neighbourhood of God’s Pocket, and has been accepted into the community, or so he thinks. When his step son Leon (Caleb Landry Jones) is killed on a construction site, and Mickey has to scramble together money for his funeral, he gets a sudden lesson in what happens to outsiders in God’s Pocket, when the chips are down.
John Slattery’s feature directorial debut has taken on an unexpected poignancy since the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman. The film is meant to be a darkly comic look at life in a small area of Philadelphia, but it is hard to watch the film without thinking of the fact that we lost Hoffman too soon.
Thankfully, this is not Hoffman’s final film, as it is perhaps not the performance we would want to remember him by. Mickey is a well-meaning character, who is a bit of a rogue, but this is not one of Hoffman’s trademark powerhouse performances. Instead, he somehow gets lost in the ensemble, and comes out as adequate, but nothing special. Christina Hendricks, Eddie Marsan, John Turturro and Richard Jenkins suffer similar fates, with Caleb Landry Jones’s short performance being memorable, if only for the fact that the character is a horrible piece of work.
Based on Peter Dexter’s novel of the same name, the story follows the events of three days in God’s Pocket. We are immediately told that the community is a close one and will tolerate almost anything, other than not being from the area, and this is precisely the trouble that Hoffman’s character finds himself in. The script, written by Alex Metcalf, valiantly tries to balance the drama and the dark humour, but fails at truly being either. This means that the dark humour comes off as tasteless and the tragedy as awkward.
As director, John Slattery does a perfectly adequate job; the performances are nothing to really write home about, but the film is well paced and interesting. The trouble comes with the introduction of a myriad of characters, leaving the film struggling to keep all the narrative balls in the air.
God’s Pocket is an interesting, but ultimately flat examination of life in an impoverished but fiercely loyal neighbourhood. Hoffman, Turturro, Hendricks and Jenkins make a nice central foursome, but none of their performances really stands out.