Director John Slattery’s first feature film behind the camera is also one of the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman’s last appearances on the big screen. A great screen presence and captivating actor, Hoffman will be dearly missed and with opportunities to see him in new films drawing to a close, it’s natural to want everything that’s left to be a masterpiece. While one must not judge before seeing a film, the newest film in the ‘Hunger Games’ series is unlikely to get to that level so we’re left with this film and the upcoming adaptation of a John le Carre novel called ‘A Most Wanted Man’, due out in September. Even though ‘God’s Pocket’ may not quite be a masterpiece, it’s a film that deals with its subject matter really well, blending together dark humour, some gripping drama and brilliantly acted characters to make a great study of a fictional working class area in Philadelphia where things are always on the verge of exploding out of constant tension and in to violence.
Slattery, an acting powerhouse who is best known for his role in ‘Mad Men’, has used his experience both acting and directing on the AMC powerhouse to bring to the table some of the same sly wit and intricate, telling dialogue that the show is famous for. Boasting a pace that is similarly deliberate, Slattery’s darker aesthetic here emulates that of God’s Pocket, a whole different world from the advertising executives of the popular TV show. Its tone is so deadpan the humour mixes right in with the downright serious, and one truly comes to appreciate the mess every single one of the characters is in, from Hoffman’s troubled meat salesman Mickey Scarpato to his friend Arthur, played excellently by John Turturro, who owes money to some dangerous people and wife Jeannie, elegantly portrayed by Christina Hendricks in what is arguably her best performance on the big screen as a woman lost in despair and entirely sick of her neigbourhood. Richard Jenkins also chimes in as alcoholic journalist Richard Shelburn, who is tasked with making sense of the place for the local newspaper and gets far too involved in the process. A mention must also be given to the menacing Caleb Landry Jones, whose small role is pivotal to the workings of the story.
The destitute lives of these people are by no means happy things and this isn’t a film that pretends to have much joy to give, but it’s an astute character drama that pays attention to all its major players, its morose tone and drab colour palette helping us to understand just what the area is like, just how hopeless it seems to be. Boasting a cast list as impressive as one can get, Slattery uses all his acting talent wonderfully and there’s not a character who you don’t believe in, even if you don’t necessarily like any of them. Perhaps what is holding it back a little is that air of coldness that perhaps makes true emotional connections with the characters impossible since it comes to show us that they’re all deeply flawed individuals, and it’s hard to know just who to feel sorry for. What may be its greatest weakness though is also its greatest success, and helps it to become a quiet revelation and another one for which Hoffman’s performance will be lauded as excellent, stealing almost every frame without even having to say anything. Things bode well for Slattery’s directorial career if he can make films as complex and brooding as this one.
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