Title: God’s Pocket
Director: John Slattery
Major Players: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Christina Hendricks, John Turturro
Out Of Five: 2.5
When Philip Seymour Hoffman died at the start of the year, he already had the best part of three films in the can. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay will be his last appearance on screen and his penultimate movie, Anton Corbijn’s A Most Wanted Man, has been gathering praise like the proverbial moss everywhere it goes. It opens here in early September so, for the time being, we have to make do with the other one, God’s Pocket – and feel a sense of relief that it isn’t his last. A talent like his has to go out on a high, and this isn’t one.
God’s Pocket is a small, incredibly close-knit blue collar area of Philadelphia. Mickey (Hoffman) is married to the voluptuous Jeanie (Christina Hendricks) but, when her son dies in an “accident” at work, she’s convinced that there’s been a cover up. While the local newspaper puts a drink-sodden hack on the story, Mickey is also trying to get to the bottom of things – and, at the same time, pay for his stepson’s funeral, something he seriously cannot afford.
Although here’s actually more to the story than that, including a sub-plot involving Mickey’s friend ‘Bird’ (John Turturro) also being in hock to the local gangster, it still sounds like the storyline for a social thriller. But that’s not what Mad Men’s John Slattery has given us in his first stab at directing a feature film. It’s a curious hybrid of farce and black comedy, which means that most of the laughs come from surprise rather than genuine humour. There’s distinct echoes of Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm about it, to the extent that you wonder if that was what Slattery had in mind. If he was, then his aim is way off. Although the funeral is classic Curb material – remember Larry’s attempts to get the paper to run an obit for his “beloved aunt”? – and Richard Jenkins’ boozy journo would have been a perfect fit as well, the film lacks David’s light touch and sense of timing, so the end result is depressingly flat footed.
But the script attracted an impressive cast, which makes you wonder what could have happened in the transition from paper to screen. After all, Hoffman has the crumpled, shambling look and style that his part demands – a man who simply has no control over his life, whatever he tries to do, and rarely gets lucky. He’s punching above his sizeable paunch with his wife, played by Christina Hendricks, who provides the only splash of colour in the downbeat neighbourhood. Yet she’s strangely passive as a character. Eddie Marsan’s undertaker, Smilin’ Jack, is one of the highlights of the film, a thoroughly mercenary piece of work who’s not above leaving a corpse out in the rain when the bill doesn’t look like getting paid.
Perhaps there’s a brisker, pithier version of God’s Pocket lying on the cutting room floor somewhere. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility and, when the DVD makes an appearance, there’s always the chance that we’ll find out. But, as it stands, the film is a let-down, lacking an essential spark and replacing it with an all-too-heavy hand. Thank goodness this isn’t going to be the last we see from Hoffman.
God’s Pocket opens in major cities around the UK on Friday, 8 August.