God’s Pocket | B-
A stellar cast is all too eager to get down and roll around in the gutter in God’s Pocket, a grimy worm’s eye view of a swiftly deteriorating blue collar neighborhood. This chaotic clustering of drably painted row houses is rough even by south Philly standards; a place where teamsters, degenerate gamblers, crooks and various sociopaths saddle up to the same ancient bar rails and drown their collective misery in pint after pint of flat lager. It is the kind of deadend place where desperation and despair have soaked into the tacky wallpaper along with a thick yellow layer of cigarette stains.
Mad Men star John Slattery jumps behind the camera for his feature debut, and he’s corralled an impressive collection of quality colleagues, including John Turturro, Richard Jenkins, Christina Hendricks, and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman — who turned in one of his typically brilliant, morose but deeply humane performances, made sadder by the knowledge that more work like it won’t be coming.
Hoffman leads the way as Mickey Scarpato, a wounded bear of a man, shambling his way through life selling meat and offsetting his gambling debts with the occasional heist for the local hoodlums. When Mickey’s unhinged, bad seed stepson Leon (Caleb Landry Jones) gets himself killed in a scuffle at the factory, there’s a rush to bury the truth right along with the unlikable villain. Not everyone is so quick to move on though, especially Leon’s profoundly unhappy mother Jeanne (Hendricks) who engages in an unlikely and off-putting affair with the rumpled newspaper columnist (Jenkins) who’s been poking around the area looking for stories. There are other consequences from the kid’s death, which begins a series of darkly comic escapades but snowballs into escalating violence and random carnage that threatens to tear apart the taut tribal ties of this bruised community.
As admirable as the acting is here, the script, based on Pete Dexter’s 1983 novel, gets tangled in its various tattered threads. Slattery seems to be going for black comedy, but there’s not many yuks to be had in seeing guys get their eyeballs gouged out. Character motivations wobble as wildly as the tone, with their only real connection being geography and misery.
On the page, this kind of Raymond Carver-like grubby, blue-collar romanticism is probably more effective; on the screen it becomes a dismal slog. God’s Pocket is not the kind of neighborhood you’d ever go out of your way to visit.
God’s Pocketis rated R, has a running time of 88 minutes, and is now playing in select theaters.
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