John Slattery’s (Roger Sterling from Mad Men) strange and darkly humorous debut centers on a little town known as God’s Pocket and the tribal justice that keeps balance in their little stagnant puddle of the world.
Caleb Landry Jones’ Leon Hubbard is a psychopath in training. The greasy, verbose, drop kick of a kid lives with his mother Jeanie (Christina Hendricks) and stepfather Mickey Scarpato (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Working on a construction site, his deplorable behaviour gets him into an ‘accident,’ that results in his death. The news ripples through the town of God’s Pocket and whispers about the truth of the accident start to undermine the story. The debt riddled Mickey in a no win situation has to find a way to pay for the funeral to keep his wife happy, use his mob connections to dig deeper without losing his business.
Slattery is very impressive behind the lens for his first debut. He paints the picture of God’s Pocket with depressing palette. Low-lit bar spaces feel alien when the lights are turned up or oppressive glare bouncing off of clouds of dust particles in unkempt homes. These are contrasted with blue skies, greenery and a cleaner air in every glimpse of the outside world. Alex Metcalf and Slattery take Peter Dexter’s novel and translate a tone of film that’s very reminiscent of the Coen brothers, which probably explains the calibre of talent drawn to the project. Mickey (Hoffman), with the help of John Turturro’s Arthur ‘Bird’ Capezio, is introduced stealing a refrigerator truck so that he can maintain a living. These two men, one a trucker, the other a florist feel like they’re from bigger cities and operated with higher stakes but there hiding out in plain sight in a forgotten, little slice of backward Americana. Domenick Lombardozzi’s (Herc from The Wire) Sal Cappi is a mob enforcer that they’ve befriended that’s allowing them to run their minor scams in the territory for a piece. As each of these marginal figures get dragged into this gyre of a town step on land-mine situations, you’ll find yourself either gasping in shock or cackling with laughter; perhaps both. And as you adjust to that kind of wretched hilarity, Slattery changes gears and uses Hoffman’s understated brilliance to evoke the morbid truth of the situation.
Hendricks’ Jeanie is numb to existence in God’s Pocket. You feel that she was drawn to Hoffman’s Mickey to be rescued and taken away from this cesspool. For whatever reason, that’s not the case, this sends her into the path of Richard Jenkins’ Richard Shellburn. Slattery dotes on Hendricks’ beauty but loads it with a helpless, sadness.
Shellburn (Jenkins) is a columnist in the local rag that’s become a minor celebrity. He’s a high functioning alcoholic and sad Lothario, using his modicum of fame to bed aspiring journalists in the least glamorous way possible. When his editor sends him into God’s Pocket he’s struck with the perfection of Jeanie (Hendricks) and draws him into this hostile territory. Jenkins just relaxes into Shellburn’s pathetic shoes. You’re immersed in this ancient, gross and limp old reporter.
Hoffman delivers an intricate performance as Mickey, he’s a man that knows his place in the world but knows he doesn’t belong in God’s Pocket. There’s a quiet desperation and like-ability in the characters contemplative manner.
The most commendable element of the script and direction is that the characters that leap off of the screen aren’t the lead characters but the regular town’s folk. The old drunken woman at the bar that’s suffocatingly sympathetic to the horrible situation; the ball busting butcher who has developed the art of negotiation; Eddie Marsan’s Smilin’ Jack Moran, the owner of the funeral home that suffers no fools; and especially the foreman at the building site (played by Glenn Fleshler a very familiar face from True Detective) who makes a compassion call that steers the trajectory of the film.
God’s Pocket is strange one, but a strange one that I can’t stop thinking about.
Blake Howard – follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to legacy audio reviews on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Directed by: John Slattery
Written by: Alex Metcalf and John Slattery (based on the novel by Peter Dexter)
Starring: Christina Hendricks, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Eddie Marsan, Caleb Landry Jones, Jack O’Connell, John Turturro, Richard Jenkins, Domenick Lombardozzi, Joyce Van Patten