Some movies can be interesting as simply showing talented actors doing what they can do their roles, but that is not the case with “God’s Pocket”, which strangely feels tedious and lifeless in spite of its talented performers assembled on the screen. Most of them did nothing bad in the film, and we can see that they are indeed talented actors to watch, but, alas, they are stuck in a disappointing film which could have been more interesting or humorous in its shabby depiction of a bunch of lowlife characters.
After the opening scene which shows a young man’s funeral as accompanied with the dry narration by newspaper columnist Richard Shellburn (Richard Jenkins), the movie depicts what happened during last several days in a seedy working class neighborhood of Philadelphia, which is nicknamed “God’s Pocket”. A dead young man in question is Leon Hubbard (Caleb Landry Jones), and we see how he dies because of a sudden ‘accident’ at his workplace where he is an insufferable eyesore to everyone including his sullen boss. When the cops arrive at the accident scene, every employee supports their boss’ false testimony, and the cops see no problem with that, though they could sense something suspicious if they looked closer into the scene.
Leon’s mother Jeanie (Christina Hendricks) and her second husband Mickey Scarpato (late Philip Seymour Hoffman, who also participated in the production of the film) react to the news of their son’s death in different ways. Although Leon is not exactly a model son, Jeanie is devastated by this news, and she somehow comes to believe that her son’s death was not a simple accident as told to her. In case of Mickey, he does not care that much about his pathetic stepson, but he makes arrangements for Leon’s burial anyway as Leon’s stepfather, and everyone at a neighborhood bar located right across the street from his house is willing to help him a bit through their small financial contributions.
And we also see Mickey’s shady meat business with his friend Arthur ‘Bird’ Capezio (John Turturro), who also operates a flower shop with his old aunt as his front business. Arthur has been in a difficult financial situation due to his gambling debt to a local mobster they are associated with, and we have a mildly amusing moment in which Arthur gives Mickey their recently stolen meat instead of $700 he owes to his friend just because he is short of cash at present.
Meanwhile, Jeanie keeps expressing her doubts on her son’s death, so Mickey asks Arthur to help him on this problem, and Arthur asks their mob associate to look into the case. This matter initially looks like something easy to be taken care of, but then there comes a striking moment of violence later in the film when two mobster guys make a surprise visit on Leon’s boss.
The first-time director John Slattery, who adapted the screenplay with Alex Metcalf from Peter Dexter’s novel, sets an appropriate tone for the background of his movie, and the moody ambience of lowlife is always around his plain characters, but the movie fails in generating enough level of interest to make us involved with the story. Its plot turns are mostly dull and lackluster without much surprise, and one crucial scene in the middle of the movie exemplifies well what is wrong with the film. While we can clearly see how that scene will end from its very beginning, its depiction of an ironic reversal of fortune feels so bland and inconsequential that you may even not recognize how that will affect the characters in that scene, whose flat resigned attitude makes it like a trivial bad luck to be forgotten on the next day.
The movie takes another bizarre turn later as Mickey clashes with a local mortician Smiling’ Jack Moran (Eddie Marsan), who adamantly demands Mickey to pay him before Leon’s funeral. What happens next is surely outrageous as being full of potential for black comedy, but the movie pushes it along the plot so inertly that what happens as a consequence in the end does not feel much like a surprise at all in spite of its weirdness.
It is all the more disappointing considering that Slattery gathered several good actors for his film. Slattery, who has recently been more notable as one of main supporting characters in TV series “Mad Men”, drew fine performances from some of the cast members, but his actors simply trudge along with the movie while wasted by their thankless roles. Philip Seymour Hoffman, who died not long after the premiere of the film at the Sundance Film Festival early in this year, is suitably cast as a tired and frustrated hero mired in his own melancholic existence, and he occasionally brings some common sense to his character. While Christina Hendricks, Edie Marsan, and John Turturro acquit themselves well to some degrees despite their thin roles, Caleb Landry Jones is stuck with a lousy job of playing someone for whom you will not feel sorry at all, and Richard Jenkins, a dependable veteran actor who can do wonder with miscellaneous roles, injects a small dose of dry humor to the movie as an alcoholic newspaperman on his downturn.
“God’s Pocket” is not a total disaster, but it is still a flaccid and uninteresting film which does not leave much impression when it is over. It does not fully develop the absurdities inside its characters’ situations, and its inane pace further accentuates its problems while making us as frustrated as its characters. Like its seedy bar full of unlikable losers, this is a sort of film you may look into with curiosity but never want to go back again for sensible reasons.