When a celebrity dies, their death is usually followed by heartwarming tributes that highlight their lives and careers. Some of us think these acknowledgements are appropriate, while others feel it places them on a pedestal they don’t deserve. Whatever side you lie on, there is something to be said about an individual who has worked his way to the top of his chosen profession, and stands out head and shoulders above the rest. This is the case with the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who died tragically on 2 February 2014. I don’t usually get weepy when someone famous dies, other than the normal sadness felt for the loved ones they left behind. But when I heard about Mr. Hoffman’s sudden death, I have to admit that I was not only saddened, but a little angry as well. For purely selfish reasons, I wanted him to live so that he could continue to make his unique, and powerful impact on the acting world; and most importantly, so that he could be a father two his two young children. I didn’t know him personally, nor do I have any idea what demons drove him to such a dark place. What I do know is that he was an immensely talented actor, one who comes along only once in a great while. It is for this reason that I think it is fitting to not only mourn his loss, but pay tribute to his career as well. Mr. Hoffman, you will be greatly missed.
Mickey Scarpatto (Philip Seymour Hoffman, Capote) is a working class stiff living in the blue collar neighborhood of God’s Pocket with his wife Jeanie (Christina Hendricks, Mad Men), and her good for nothing son Leon (Caleb Landry Jones, X-Men: First Class). When Leon is killed in a construction site accident, the Scarpatto’s already fragile marriage begins unravelling, and the insular neighborhood where they live starts to break apart at the seams.
It took me a while to gather my thoughts in regards to the film God’s Pocket. Hoffman was fantabulous — as you would expect — and co-stars John Turturro, Joyce Van Patten, and Richard Jenkins’ performances were also of a spectacular nature. Still, when the film ended, those little hairs that usually stand on end when I see a great film were lying limp and unimpressed. But why, I asked myself? The movie had great performances, and a few gem scenes that had husband cheering in his favorite recliner. But when all was said and done, the filmmakers were trying to do too much with a film that needed to be personal and simple.
God’s Pocket takes place in a rough and rugged neighborhood in Philadelphia, PA. It is based on the 1983 novel by former Daily News columnist Peter Dexter, and is inspired by a true life incident where Dexter was severely beaten by a group of people who were angry about one of his columns -just cancel your subscription already. But the focal point of his story revolves around Mickey (Hoffman), a down on his luck loser who’s trying to hustle together the money he needs to pay for his good for nothing step son’s funeral, and his bodacious and manipulative wife Jeanie. I was hooked; Hoffman playing an everyman in a gritty urban neighborhood? I am so there dude. I was eager for this tale to unfold before me, but when it did, unfortunately it was disconnected and disjointed.
Here’s the gist; Leon dies in an accident on a construction site. Jeanie believes there’s a cover up, and when she meets an alcoholic columnist named Richard Shellburn, played by Richard Jenkins (The Cabin in the Woods), she seduces him into investigating the suspicious conditions surrounding her son Leon’s death. Meanwhile, Mickey’s trying to scrape together the money needed for the unnecessarily elaborate funeral that Jeanie demands, by betting what was collected in donations on a horse that is supposed to be a “sure thing” — way to go Mickey. In addition, Mickey is owed money by his friend Arthur, another horse aficionado, who is down 20Gs to the mob. When Arthur asks his mob buddy Sal (Domenick Lombardozzi The Wire) to do him a solid, one of Sal’s ‘associates’ is killed and Sal thinks Arthur set him up — whew! Sounds like a winner, right? Well not so much.
Mad Men star John Slattery directed and co-wrote the screenplay for God’s Pocket, his first time at the helm of a major motion picture. I give him an A for effort, but he just juggles too many story lines at once, and the film is uneven because of it. Hoffman and Hendricks have little to no chemistry, and I mean no disrespect to Ms. Hendricks, but she isn’t the same caliber of actor as Hoffman, so their scenes together lack authenticity. Not to mention that the characters are never fully fleshed out, in particular Leon, the person who’s death spearheads the film. Who was he? Why was his death met with such indifference? Someone once told me that we shouldn’t critique what the filmmaker doesn’t do, just what’s presented on the screen, but what Slattery doesn’t do contributes to the failure of the film. In fact, there’s a deleted scene available in the special features where Mickey and Leon meet up in a local bar. Leon is shown as complex, an attention seeker who’s purposely mean to Mickey — hurting him where it counts. Right there we see who Leon truly is, and we understand immediately why only his mother is heartbroken by his death. Why that scene is left on the cutting room floor is mystifying to me.
Slattery includes plot points involving Arthur, his mob connections and his Aunt Sophie. Although these characters are entertaining, the time devoted to them takes attention away from the whole reason you popped the Blu-ray into your player in the first place — The Scarpattos and the death of Leon. This story gets lost in the fray of chaos swirling around God’s Pocket, and for the most part I lost interest in the story as well.
Having said all that, I like God’s Pocket enough to suggest you see it — and this is due mainly to the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, whose on screen time is sublime. The consummate actor gives it his all no matter what part he’s playing. Slattery is no directorial slouch, he manages to get fine performances out of his cast of wonderful actors, and tells a relatively coherent tale; I just hope that the next time out, his message is more resolute.
God’s Pocket (Blu-ray) is a 2.35:1/1080p transfer, that gives a crystal clear view of this gritty Philly neighborhood. The color palate is muted, the dark colors fitting the dreariness of the character’s lives. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix, makes for easy to hear the dialogue, and gives us a realistic auditory experience of this working class neighborhood. Extras are fairly minimalistic and include, the audio commentary, deleted scenes, trailers, and the film’s television spot. I was hoping for a bit more, a few actor interviews maybe, and some insight from the books author Peter Dexter, but alas, it wasn’t meant to be.
God’s Pocket is old school Philly through and through. The film has many very good elements, they just don’t quite fit together to make a cohesive whole. So what could have been a great film is merely an average one at best.
Not guilty, thanks to Philip Seymour Hoffman.
God’s Pocket (Blu-ray)
2014, MPI, 89 minutes, R (2014)
VIDEO: 2.23:1 AUDIO: DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English) SUBTITLES: English (SDH), Spanish
EXTRAS: Commentary, Deleted Scenes, TV Spot, Trailer ACCOMPLICES: IMDB