Written by Alex Metcalf and John Slattery, and directed by Slattery (best known for his performances as Howard Stark of the Marvel Cinematic Universe after Dominic Cooper’s ww2 era take on the character) “God’s Pocket” is an adaption of the novel of the same title by Pete Dexter in 1983. “God’s Pocket” is one of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s final performances as he plays the lead, Mickey Scarpato, and while the film as a whole is a middling affair in low level gangster dramas in 1970’s Philadelphia- his performance is what ultimately makes the film worth a watch.
I don’t want to sour on the film’s other aspects though, there a few solid aspects to take note of here, it’s just that the story that pulls everything together isn’t as engaging or immersive as others in the genre. The film is really just a good exercise in acting and performance as the production is filled with skilled actors like Eddie Marsan, Christina Hendricks, Richard Jenkins, and a serious character role from John Turturro as well. The direction handled by Slattery is generally impressive for a first time director as well, he has a good eye for framing and putting the actors on display, which is saying something for how grimy and dimly lit the world they inhabit happens to be.
The plot at the core of this story follows Leon, Mickey Scarpato’s step-son, who is killed after berating an older black man to the point that he cracked Leon over the head with a lead pipe. The fellow construction workers that witnessed the act stand up for the elderly black man when questioned by the police and cover up the act by citing a falling piece of machinery. Somehow word gets out that there may have been suspicious acts surrounding Leon’s death and from there we witness several converging storylines. Leon was a scoundrel of a young man that did nothing to earn any respect or sympathy with the audience so that while he is quickly dispatched after showcasing his boisterous and proud belligerent nature, the characters may mourn his loss, but we have nothing to connect with. We can see how a death effects a community, but afterwards the film solely exists to see just how bad things can get for ole Mick as he tries to stay above water in financing his stepson’s funeral and keeping a well known local columnist from digging into his life, but sometimes it feels like, why should we care? Thankfully we have the acting efforts of the cast to fall back on and inform us of the atmosphere of the lives they lead. Philip Seymour Hoffman shines here just as he does in everything else. At one moment Mick can seem at his exhausted end with frustration boiling over into a melancholy sadness that lies behind his eyes, but he can react to other character’s influences quickly and go from threatening to empathetic in one quick motion.
“God’s Pocket” may not be the gangster drama you were looking for, but it’s unique contents of absurdism and melancholy make it worth a watch. Philip Seymour Hoffman and the rest of the cast earn what the story lacked. That, along with some solid direction from John Slattery, is enough for me to give this film a recommendation. Just don’t go into this one seeking something a little more Goodfellas.
Final Score: 18 screwdrivers and 1 lousy corpse