Directed by: John Slattery
Premise: Based on the novel by Peter Dexter. Set in a working class town, a middle aged man (Philip Seymour Hoffman) struggles to play his bills and maintain his marriage. Things go from bad to worse when his stepson (Caleb Landry Jones) dies under suspicious circumstances.
What Works: God’s Pocket has an impressive cast and all of the major actors contribute a lot to the movie. The film is led by Philip Seymour Hoffman as a man trying to get by on means that aren’t sufficient to his needs. This is a character with a lot of irons on the fire, not all of them legal, and the role is appropriate for Hoffman; one of the late actor’s gifts was his ability to play unsavory characters and give them a glimmer of dignity and internal life and convey that through understated details in his performance. Christina Hendricks plays the wife of Hoffman’s character and although the part is limited and underwritten she is also able to convey a lot in her scenes. Hendricks spends a lot of the movie in mourning but there is another aspect of her sadness; her character is a woman who could have been something but has settled for the mundane. Her son is played by Caleb Landry Jones and even though he is dispatched from the story very quickly, Jones makes a strong impression as a violent and psychotic drug addict. Richard Jenkins is featured in a supporting role as an alcoholic newspaper columnist and Jenkins is terrific in this part. The columnist is self-absorbed and creepy and yet he is able to wax poetic about the working class city in which he lives. That leads to the other impressive aspect of God’s Pocket; the movie has an authentic sense of place. The bars and alleyways in which much of the movie takes place have a dingy and weathered look as do the extras and bit players who give them movie an authentic, non-Hollywood texture. Despite its considerable flaws, God’s Pocket does have a feel for its setting and it matches that grit with a vicious sense of humor.
What Doesn’t: God’s Pocket only runs eighty-eight minutes but even with that modest running time the film comes across as padded and overlong and it suffers from too many storylines. The movie begins with a compelling incident in which a young man is killed in a workplace altercation and the cause of death is concealed by the employer but the suspicion of the deceased’s parents is raised. This could lead to an interesting story in the vein of movies like Mystic River or Gone Baby Gone but the filmmakers don’t develop that plotline into a captivating tale of drama and suspense. Instead they jump around from one subplot to another, bringing in a lot of supporting characters whose lives and stories are only tangentially connected to each other. The function of subplots is to add texture, provide opportunities for characterization, and enhance the themes of the story with ironic or parallel juxtapositions of events. The subplots of God’s Pocket rarely add to the main thrust of the story and quite often it is as if the moviemakers as just conjuring meaningless errands for Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character to run. A lot of the movie doesn’t make any sense and many of the subplots are missing basic expository information that would fill in who these people are, how they are related to one another, and what they are up to. The movie doesn’t pull together. It’s a collection of scenes but not a coherent story and it isn’t headed anywhere; God’s Pocket has no dramatic thrust and the story does not escalate toward anything. In the end nothing really comes to a conclusion.
Bottom Line: God’s Pocket wastes an impressive cast, including one of the final performances of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman. The actors do what they can but the script is a random series of events that does not make for a coherent story.
Episode: #494 (June 8, 2014)