“GOD’S POCKET” CONFIRMS just how much we’ll miss the unfussy, natural, low-keyed brilliance of Philip Seymour Hoffman. Here he plays Mickey Scarpato, a struggling workingman and part-time petty thief – a description we are told (by the voice over of the area’s celebrant, journalist Richard Shelburn) would fit any of the inhabitants.
God’s Pocket – clearly an ironic name – is a bleak, down-in-the-heels kind of place where everyone knows everyone else; where their strong sense of identification (Mickey is constantly reminded that he isn’t from there and therefore somehow doesn’t totally fit in) is balanced by a strong desire to escape…if only they could find the money to do so. For the need isn’t so much to escape the place, but to escape all that the place stands for: the lack of money, the immanence of violence and the claustrophobia of familiarity.
Money, debt and violence! They are at the center of the narrative – forming a vicious cycle from which, like God’s Pocket, there’s no let up.
We are introduced to two of the principal characters – Mickey and Arthur (John Turturro) – as they team up to rip off a meat van under the watchful presence of their thuggish debt collector.
Things go off kilter when Mickey’s stepson, a nasty, racist lout played by Caleb Landry Jones, is killed in a construction ‘accident’. Nobody’s prepared to tell the cops what really happened. Violence happens in God’s Pocket.
But a dead body’s an expensive thing; and, yielding to the demands of Leon’s mother and his wife (“Mad Men’s” Christina Hendricks) who’s also looking for a way out, Mickey has to find the $5000+ needed for a decent burial. This drives him to play the horses, which results in even more debt, which results in even more violence.
And so it goes, cynically narrated by Shelburn –a tired, washed-up alcoholic lecher played to perfection by Richard Jenkins.
There’s really no light at the end of God’s Pocket’s tunnel, and the only lightness in this dark movie is from a moment of black comedy when Leon’s dead body, hidden in the refridgerated meat van, is shot out into the road after an accident. As Shelburn notes, you need to die twice to escape the damned place.
John Slattery, who we know as Roger Sterling from “Mad Men” directed. It’s a solid workman-like piece of directing.
Problem is, we’ve seen this sort of place so often recently that it’s become a stand-in for gritty Indie realism. Usually we find these poorly lit, grubby bars and ramshackle houses on the wrong side of Boston. And usually the protagonists are boxers with no-nonsense wives struggling to keep their men on the right side of the law. So this whole now tired milieu was a cliché even before director John Slattery’s Clint Eastwood-influenced direction added even more clichés to the genre.
Nor does the hit-you-over-the-head writing help much. In God’s Pocket, or call it Anywhere USA, there’s no way out. And in “God’s Pocket” there’s no way you don’t get this theme. It screams at you at every turn, from the journalist’s laconic commentary to the dialogue within. The story meanders here and there, signposted by the authorial point of view until it ends, having gone nowhere really.
But it was raining outside, and the acting was tremendous, so whatthehell.