God's Pocket

Directed By: John Slattery

Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Richard Jenkins, Christina Hendricks, John Turturro, Caleb Landry Jones, and Eddie Marsan

"The working men of God's Pocket are simple men.  Everyone here has stolen something from somebody else, or when they were kids, they set someone's house on fire, or they ran away when they should have stayed and fought."
-Richard Shellburn (Richard Jenkins)

The right movie quote can say everything about the film in which it is uttered with just a few brief words.  The Dark Knight didn't die a hero, but he did live long enough to see himself become the villain.  The adventurous life of Forrest Gump was like a box of chocolates.  Michael Corleone does follow his father's advice by keeping his friends close and his enemies closer.  In the case of John Slattery's God's Pocket, the opening quote above says everything about the simple people in this sad little town.  Unfortunately, that's not exactly saying much about the movie.

For Mickey and Jeanie Scarpato (Philip Seymour Hoffman and Christina Hendricks), today marks another ordinary day in God's Pocket — an American cul de sac in which most natives are born, live, and die — until tragedy strikes.  After making love to Jeanie, Mickey takes his stepson Leon Hubbard (Caleb Landry Jones) to his job as a day laborer at a local construction site.  A hateful little 23 year-old, Leon makes plenty of enemies on the job by threatening people with his army knife and hurling racist slurs at an older black gentleman at the site lovingly referred to as Old Lucy (Arthur French).  A little too confident in his abilities, Leon proceeds to threaten that older gentleman by holding the knife to his throat and calling him a nigger.  This vitriolic act is exactly what gets him killed as the old man clocks him in the back of his head with a metal pipe when the opportunity presents itself.  To Mickey and Jeanie, however, all they know is that they have now lost their boy to a "work accident".

Mickey is a connected man and has some ties to the criminal element in God's Pocket.  While catastrophe is striking for his stepson, Mickey is doing a job with his close friend Arthur "Bird" Capezio (John Turturro).  Learning of his friend's financial woes, Mickey lends Bird $20,000.  When he learns of Leon's death and that he's going to have to pay for the funeral costs, he heads straight for the nearest bar in town.  Because of the loan to Bird, he doesn't have the $6,000 he needs to pay funeral director Jack Moran (Eddie Marsan).  Meanwhile, Jeanie doesn't buy that her son died in a work accident.  She reaches out to the police to ramp up an investigation.  She has Mickey reach out to his contacts to bust some heads and get the truth.  She even begins talking to popular God's Pocket newspaper columnist Richard Shellburn (Jenkins).  Jeanie is determined to find the truth by any means necessary.

The easiest way for me to determine whether or not a film is worth my readers’ time is by asking myself one simple question.  Do I want to watch this movie again?  In the case of John Slattery's directorial debut, that answer is a resounding no.  God's Pocket is a bleak little film that rarely offers anything remotely engaging or intriguing.  The storylines feel disconnected and without purpose.  I know that the Mad Men actor is trying to use an intimate family tale to paint a picture of this small American city and in effect provide some commentary on the black heart of American society as a whole.  However, Slattery fails to do so in an effective manner, and we as moviegoers are left to suffer for it.

The working men of God's Pocket let us down as well.  In one of his final performances, the late great Philip Seymour Hoffman gives a wandering, aimless performance as this clueless husband.  He's certainly brooding as this aging criminal, but there's nothing else compelling or meaningful about his performance.  For his part as Arthur "Bird" Capezio, John Turturro also disappoints us.  Usually good for a few laughs in a film, Turturro doesn't even deliver a single chuckle-worthy moment to break up this rather macabre film.  Richard Jenkins even gives a lacking performance as lustful journalist Richard Shellburn.  For portraying a character who's supposed to look years younger than he actually is, Jenkins brings no vitality or energy to the film whenever he's on camera.  The only female of any merit in the film is Christina Hendricks (also of Mad Men fame).  She might as well be replaced by a crash test dummy given her bland performance.  For her part, Hendricks offers an empty shell, not a grieving mother wrestling with an unthinkable tragedy.

It's quite clear where I stand on God's Pocket.  John Slattery and his cast fail to deliver the goods.  This adaptation of Pete Dexter's novel leaves a lot to be desired, including a few rounds of Bourbon.  God's Pocket gets a 0.09% rating.