God's Pocket | Film | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

God's Pocket

A good cast can't save this self-conscious, downbeat tale of working-class folks in trouble

Ride-along: John Turturro and Philip Seymour Hoffman
Ride-along: John Turturro and Philip Seymour Hoffman

God's Pocket opens during a funeral, while a voiceover sets the stage: "The working men of God's Pocket are simple men. They work, they follow their teams, they marry and have children, who rarely leave the Pocket. Everyone here has stolen something from someone else, or when they were kids, they set someone's house on fire, or they ran away when they should have stayed and fought. ... And whatever they are is what they are. The only thing they can't forgive is not being from God's Pocket."

Then we flash back three days and meet a few residents: Mickey (the late Philip Seymour Hoffman), married to Jeanie (Christina Hendricks), drops her son Leon off at work — where Leon is killed at lunch. Then Mickey and a buddy (John Turturro) steal a truck full of meat and discuss betting on horses. Beyond the Pocket, we meet Shelburn (Richard Jenkins), the booze-addled newspaper columnist responsible for the opening soliloquy. Leon's death sets the wobbly plot in motion: It feels like not much happens, though there are fights, corpse abuse, an affair and some more deaths.

Set in Philadelphia, God's Pocket is adapted from Peter Dexter's 1983 novel, and is the directorial debut from John Slatterly (Mad Men's Roger Sterling). It self-consciously portrays "real" working-class life, heavy on the murk. I suspect the recitation of Shelburn's column was a bit of meta-text meant to critique those from the outside, such as Shelburn, who would deign to understand the "colorful" working class. Yet God's Pocket falls into the same trap, never once feeling authentic.

It shifts in tone from black comedy to inferior Tom Waits song to kitchen-sink drama to Sopranos-lite. What passes for meaning is fleeting and not particularly revelatory: People could make an effort, but don't; there's a thin dignity in wallowing among fellow losers; alcohol is the cause of, and solution to, most problems; and if you're not from God's Pocket, as Mickey isn't, fuhgeddaboutit.

God's Pocket has a great cast — which also includes Peter Gerety and Eddie Marsan — but you're mostly watching a slate of your favorite quality-TV and indie-movie actors pretending to be hard-edged folks. Hoffman's Mickey looks appropriately lost, but portraying broken men was a specialty of his.

This isn't your last chance to see Hoffman in a film: He stars in a spy thriller this summer, and somehow his half-completed work will be incorporated into the new Hunger Games. But if you're a fan, you might add God's Pocket to your list, if only as a memorial: Think of it as sitting in a depressing bar with an unsatisfying cheap beer, remembering that great guy you knew who isn't here anymore.

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