Directed by: John Slattery.
Written by: Alex Metcalf & John Slattery based on the novel by Peter Dexter.
Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman (Mickey Scarpato), Christina Hendricks (Jeanie Scarpato), John Turturro (Arthur 'Bird' Capezio), Richard Jenkins (Richard Shellburn), Eddie Marsan (Smilin' Jack Moran), Caleb Landry Jones (Leon Hubbard), Molly Price (Joanie), Pete Gerety (McKenna), Sophia Takal (Temple Graduate).
I have a feeling that I would have liked Gods Pocket a little bit more had I not just seen The Drop the day before. Both films take place in working class neighborhoods in New York, where the workers and criminal life stand side by side, and sometimes overlap. The Drop does an excellent job at establishing the neighborhood and the characters in it – and also tells a great story, that slowly sneaks up on you. Gods Pocket tries to do the same thing – but doesn’t come close to be as effective. It has a great cast, but it pretty much wastes it. It has almost no story whatsoever. And as a portrait of this very specific neighborhood, it never quite comes off.
What little story there is in Gods Pocket is about the death of Leon Hubbard (Caleb Landry Jones) – a young, loudmouthed asshole, who starts spouting racist crap on the job site directed at an aging African American worker – who responds by hitting him in the head, killing him. The rest of the workers decide to say it was an accident – no one liked the kid anyway, and why ruin their fellow workers life. Leon’s mother, Jeanie (Christina Hendricks) doesn’t believe the story she is told, and asks her husband Mickey (Philip Seymour Hoffman) – who is not Leon’s father, and not even from Gods Pocket originally – to find out what happened. He, in turn, reaches out to another friend – Bird (John Turturro) – who reaches out to his criminal connections. In addition, Mickey has to come up with money to bury Leon – especially since the local undertaker (Eddie Marsan) isn’t willing to put anything on layaway. And then there’s an aging, alcoholic reporter (Richard Jenkins) who writes about the neighborhood in poetic, almost romantic language – even if he himself is more than a little bit of an asshole.
That may sound that there is lot going on in Gods Pocket, but there really isn’t much here. The movie moves at a snail’s pace, and essentially has the characters going in circles throughout. The main character here is Hoffman’s Mickey – and it’s another fine performance by the late actor, but even he isn’t able to salvage what is an underwritten role. And if he's underwritten, then he rest of the cast is even worse off – not even given the depth that Mickey has. Essentially, all of the characters in the movie start off miserable, and end up even more so.
The film is the directorial debut of actor John Slattery (Mad Men). To give credit where due, unlike many actor turned directors, Slattery is not just looking on making an actor’s showcase here – in fact, I don’t think he’s interested in making an actor’s showcase at all, given how subdued all the performances in the film are. Instead, what he is attempting to do is to give a complete portrait of this miserable neighborhood. He partly succeeds, but not enough – the neighborhood itself doesn’t become the "character" he wants it to be. Instead, he just makes everything grim and drab – and the few moments outside the neighborhood a little more colorful to show the contrast – but it doesn’t quite work.
There are moments here that work – and the cast gamely tries to breathe some life in the film. But it basically remains a grim, drab, dull film of grim, drab, dull people, living in a grim, drab, dull neighborhood. There is nothing here to hold my interest throughout. It’s an honorable first effort behind the camera by Slattery – but one that just never quite delivers.