You may know him as Roger Sterling on AMC's Mad Men, but John Slattery takes a seat in the director's chair for his very first feature-film, the black dram-edy, God's Pocket (opening today). Although there is much to like, the film will mostly be remembered as one of the final film performances of the late, great, Philip Seymour Hoffman, who stars as a greasy, two-bit, low-life criminal trying to pick up the pieces after he becomes ensnared in a local tragedy.
Hoffman is Mickey Scarpato, one of the few resident's not originally from "God's Pocket," a tight-knit suburb of Philadelphia that is a character on its own. It's the sort of community where everybody knows everybody and despite mass poverty and an abundance of dirty, blue-collar jobs, the townsfolk are instilled with a common pride on where they come from. It's the sort of place where outsiders are not usually welcome, but Mickey has blended in well with his new wife Jeanie (Christina Hendricks) and her son, Leon (Caleb Landry Jones).
But one day, things take a tragic turn for the family. Mickey and his buddy Bird (John Turturro) are in the midst of a small-time heist when he is forced to refocus on this newly introduced problem. Bird on the other hand, is in deep with a low-level mobster (Domenick Lombardozzi...who else?) and needs Mickey's help.
Things escalate and get out of hand, as they tend to do in these kind of films. But for every unpleasant, violent moment, there are three off-color laughs, creating a tone instilled with darkly funny sequences and Mamet-esque exchanges of witty dialogue.
Disappointingly, there is a distracting story thread woven into the film involving a journalist (Richard Jenkins) who covers the happenings within God's Pocket. It doesn't do a lot to propel the film forward and despite the always great Jenkins, it is mostly unnecessary.
Even despite that storyline, God's Pocket really never goes anywhere. It creates an interesting world in which our characters exist, but it doesn't lead towards anything resembling a satisfying pay-off.
Just like when I watched James Gandolfini in last year's Enough Said, watching Hoffman on screen post-mortem is a saddening distraction in and of itself. It's impossible to really invest in the film's story when you are instead marveling at every nuance of the actor's performance, clinging to each scene in hopes that your gaze will prolong his existence. His performance here is classic Hoffman, a role that he fully inhabits and is reminiscent of the sort of roles that led to his reputation as one of the best working character actors in Hollywood.
God's Pocket will be remembered because of Hoffman and for nothing more. Which isn't really a bad thing, if you think about it.
Run Time: 1 hour, 28 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, John Turturro, Eddie Marsan, Caleb Landry Jones, Christina Hendricks, Domenick Lombardozzi
Based on the novel by Peter Dexter
Directed by John Slattery (feature-film debut)
Opens locally on Friday, May 16, 2014 (check for show times).
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How to read Tom Santilli's "Star Ratings:"
- 5 Stars: Exceptional, must-see movie
- 4 Stars: Very good movie, not without flaws
- 3 Stars: The movie was just OK, leaves a lot to be desired
- 2 Stars: Pretty bad, a let-down, disappointing, but with some redeeming qualities
- 1 Star: Awful, sloppy, a total waste of time