Philip Seymour Hoffman stars in one of his final roles as a boozy lowlife who tries to cover-up the truth behind his stepson’s suspicious death but a reporter, who senses something amiss, is out to get the real facts.
Based on the 1983 novel by Pete Dexter, God’s Pocket is the directorial debut of John Slattery, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Alex Metcalf. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays a boozy lowlife who works for criminals on the side, until one day, his manic drug-addled stepson is suspiciously killed in a supposed “accident” and Hoffman desperately tries to bury the rumours surrounding the incident as his life slowly falls apart around him. Meanwhile, a nosy alcoholic newspaper columnist becomes increasingly infatuated with the mother, played by Slattery’s Mad Men pal Christina Hendricks, which further complicates matters.
God’s Pocket was one of Hoffman’s final film roles before his tragic passing early this year, and here, he gives another terrific performance. Obviously, we remember the oily-like performances he gave in some of his most iconic film roles, like The Talented Mr Ripley and The Master, playing a smooth and calm guy with a dark and violent edge behind it. Yet, he’s also great at playing characters that are dishevelled, desperate, ram-shackled and world-weary, as demonstrated in the recent A Most Wanted Man, and that’s the Philip Seymour Hoffman that we see in this film. The character he plays is not perfect, yet there are very human flaws that make you almost sympathise with him and his turmoil.
Even the supporting performances are solid overall; John Tuturro is one of those actors that has a real charm about him, which he uses to his advantage in any film role he does, regardless if the film’s good or bad. Richard Jenkins and Eddie Marsan do the best with what they are given and both give strong performances. The film’s real emotion comes from Christina Hendricks, and her startling appearance here with her signature red hair dyed dark brown feels talismanic of the film’s downbeat and drained demeanour. Hendricks is emotionally compelling as the grief-stricken mother desperately searching for the truth about her son’s death, and you feel devastated when she ignites her own downward spiral with her adulterous affair with the reporter, which ultimately brings her down to the same level of the corruption steeped in God’s Pocket. It’s a quietly poignant performance, and it’s a real shame Hendricks is sorely sidelined for most of the drama.
The setting of Philadelphia gives a very gritty and urban atmosphere to the whole film, yet there is a sense of community to the area. It’s crime-ridden, steeped in poverty and it’s a place people would dream of leaving behind, but there is a bond amongst the locals that strangely has an air of Rocky (also set in Philadelphia) about it with its blue-collar community.
However, the film’s biggest fault is with its comedy. It has a very blackly comic edge to it, and when it comes into play, it feels jarring and uneven, and as a result, cheapens the mood and atmosphere a little. Plus, the affair between Hendricks and Jenkins, despite being solidly played, feels very underdeveloped and could’ve been expanded upon more.
Overall, the tone is jarring and some characters and storylines are underdeveloped (more Christina Hendricks please), but where God’s Pocket really succeeds is when it focuses on Hoffman and his life, his desperation, his issues and his problems, and the film does enough of that to be broadly appealing, even with its grimy edge.
Written by Ryan Pollard
Directed by: John Slattery
Written by: Alex Metcalf
Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Richard Jenkins, Christina Hendricks, John Turturro, Caleb Landry Jones, Eddie Marsan
Released: 2014 / Genre: Drama / Country: USA
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God’s Pocket is released on DVD & Blu-ray January 12th