God's Pocket

god's pocket 2.jpg
UK Release Date 8th August 2014
Director John Slattery
Starring PSH, Richard Jenkins
Runtime 88 Minutes
Certificate 15
Reviewer Si
Reviewed 9th August 2014

I have a terrible confession to make. I have never watched Mad Men. There. I’ve said it. And it’s a weight off my mind. I didn’t realise how big a deal this was until attempting to extricate my tickets from the self service machine at the BFI Southbank. This is always a challenging experience as said machine is somewhat on the temperamental side. This time though, it was the apparently significant presence of John Slattery and a barrage of photographers that caused the issue. That and the type of suited person who has absolutely no awareness of his surroundings and is baffled that you might actually want to get past him to the machine. Point being I guess was that I have missed the entire Slattery / Christina Hendricks show completely.

Which brings us to God’s Pocket. A title that never ceases to amuse me, despite everyone else either completely missing the fact that it sounds like a euphemism for something slightly dirty. I guess it doesn’t on the other side of the Atlantic. Or maybe doesn’t to anyone remotely grown up. Directed by Slattery and starring Hendricks along with Philip Seymour Hoffman, Eddie Marsen, John Turturro and Richard Jenkins, this is of course tragically one of Hoffman’s final performances before his tragic early death.

Adapted from a Peter Dexter (he of The Paperboy fame) novel, which was based on actual events that befell the author, the movie is set in a working class neighbourhood of New York, the titular God’s Pocket (itself based on a neighbourhood called The Devil’s Pocket - so called because the inhabitants we said to be able to steal from that very pocket). Mickey Scarpato (Hoffman) is a butcher and low level criminal, bumping along nicely, ripping off meat trucks with his friend Arthur ‘Bird’ Capezio (Turturro),drinking in the bar across the road from his house and leaving his absurdly hot wife Jeanie (Hendricks - kind of the American Gemma Arterton) largely unfulfilled in bed.

This comfortably numb existence is threatened by Jeanie’s idiot son (Scarpato’s stepson) who delights in talking trash and swinging a flick knife at everyone. It doesn’t end well for him when he picks on the wrong guy at work and recognising the justice of the result, the work colleagues of his murderer rally around and claim an industrial accident saw him off. Jeanie senses something is amiss and insists that Mickey investigate. This he does using Birdy’s organised crime connections, setting off a series of events that quickly spiral out of control. Meanwhile, local celebrity columnist and William S Burroughs alike (check the voiceover) Richard Shellburn (Jenkins) takes time off from repeating the same column over and over and is despatched to correct the inaccuracies of his paper’s reporting on the boy’s death. Shellburn is an alcoholic and sleaze and soon has his sights on Jeanie.

It’s not hard to spot that God’s Pocket has taken something of a critical battering on its release Stateside and I can see where a lot of the criticism has come from but the level seems somewhat harsh. Having said that, nobody is going to hold this one up as one of Hoffman’s great roles. Getting over the unlikeliness of his relationship with Jeanie, Scarpato is a decent character and Hoffman plays him well. Overweight, alcoholic, mumbling, he is the kind of non-showy everyman that Hoffman fits to a tee. Clearly aware of his unlikely union, Scarpato will go to any length to appease the woman he clearly loves but cannot hope to service. It’s a great kind of understated desperation born out of a slow decline rather than sudden events. Hendricks is impressive as Jeanie, steadfastly determined to find out what happened to her useless child as her life-force ebbs away in the claustrophobic surrounds of a neighbourhood she grew up in.

But it’s Jenkins that actually makes this movie worth a look. Clearly an actor who deserves more critical praise and attention than he gets, his Shellburn is an utter write-off of a man. Lazily critiquing his neighbours whilst drinking himself into a stupor and sleeping with barely legal students, he oozes through the movie his Burroughs-esque voiceover attempting to make profound points about the mundane. It’s a wonderful performance that makes me want to see Jenkins in far better roles than he’s been getting lately.

And amongst these performances we have a movie that doesn’t really know where it's pitching itself. Soaked in wonderful seventies style colours, it bounces from working class grit and ennui to acts of horrifically comedic violence. Which isn’t necessarily an issue but when you sit and think about the movie afterwards, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what it all meant. Eyes are gouged, skulls are crushed and bodies are dragged around, all with a streak of pitch black humour. “Leon’s been killed again!” Jeanie shrieks at Mickey at one point, as Mickey desperately tries to explain the loss of funeral money to a horse.

At a brisk 88 minutes, it’s hard to be too critical of God’s Pocket. It’s an entertaining ensemble piece with some super performances and some incredibly funny moments, though you’ll cringe as you’re laughing and if nothing else it is well worth your time for Jenkins’ awesomely slimy Shellburn. And at least this Dexter adaptation doesn't have Nicole Kidman pissing on Zac Effron.    

Check out the trailer here.

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