Movie Review - God's Pocket

Philip Seymour Hoffman (left) and
Eddie Marsan in "God's Pocket"
John Slattery is best known for his role in the TV series Mad Men. He has done some directing for that series, but for his first feature film, he has adapted the 1983 novel by Pete Dexter. This is only the second time one of Dexter's novels has been adapted.

It's about the events surrounding the death of a young man at a construction site in the late 1970's or early 80's. The young man lives and is from an urban neighborhood, known as "God's Pocket," and the film is more about the reactions of the enclave of people who knew the young man.

The young man who dies is Leon, played by Caleb Landry Jones (Antiviral). Leon is long-haired, nasty, aggressive and overly arrogant and racist. He is absolutely horrible and even threatens with a knife the life an elderly black man. When Leon dies at his job, everyone who witnesses his death says that it's an accident, but that's a lie.

Leon is murdered, but everyone who witnesses covers it up. This says a lot about the people there. They recognize the bad element within their group and community, and they let the forces within deal with it. What they abhor is outside forces trying to enter and fix or address things.

Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote and Boogie Nights) stars as Mickey Scarpato, a man who seems to make his money through criminal or under-the-table ways. For example, we see him, along with his friend Bird, played by John Turturro (Quiz Show and Barton Fink), steal a refrigerated truck in order to sell its contents and the truck itself in the black market.

Christina Hendricks (Mad Men) plays Jeanie, the mother of Leon who is devastated at the loss of her 22-year-old son. She suspects his death wasn't accidental, or even if it was, she knows there's more to the story. When a newspaper reporter named Richard Shelburn, played by Richard Jenkins (North Country and The Visitor), an old, grisled and horny guy, is assigned to the story, Jeanie attaches herself to him hoping he can get to the bottom of what happened to her son.

While all the death, crime and mourning is occurring, there's also a weird sense of humor here. After about a third or almost half-way through this movie, it takes a turn and it's no longer just a gritty drama. It also becomes somewhat of a comedy. A fight scene at the construction site that ends unexpectedly is the first indication that the tone is shifting or perhaps was the tone that was wholly intended at the start.

The opening scene is a funeral where the mortician named Jack, played by Eddie Marsan (Vera Drake and Happy-Go-Lucky), gets supremely punched. However, what progresses could be an adaptation of a Dennis Lehane novel, but the turn that makes the movie comedic is when Mickey confronts Jack at the funeral home about not paying him but still wanting him to bury Leon.

Slattery actually employs Weekend at Bernie's-style of humor, or gags that would be appropriate in that 1989 film. The sleazy Richard hits on the grieving Jeanie, which is something out of a Woody Allen movie. A surprising shootout at a flower shop involving the sexy pit bull Sal, played by Domenick Lombardozzi (The Wire and Entourage) and Bird's mother Sophie, played by Joyce Van Patten, the sister of Dick Van Patten, is like something out of a Tarantino flick.

There's more consistency and more of a directorial touch on the first adaptation of a Pete Dexter novel, that being The Paperboy by Lee Daniels. This film, however, has a better ending in that it's more subtle rather than sensational. I haven't seen Dexter's produced screenplays like Mulholland Falls and Michael (1996) to compare, but I wish Slattery had played up the comedy here more to underline the inherent humor.

Three Stars out of Five.
Rated R for violence, language throughout and sexual content.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 29 mins.


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