Less Than Sterling: God’s Pocket

05/07/2014 4:00 AM |

God’s Pocket
Directed by John Slattery

Philip Seymour Hoffman’s sudden death unavoidably looms over this movie. Featuring one of the celebrated actor’s final performances, it’s hard to see as anything other than a melancholy tribute—which is perhaps best for director John Slattery (best known for his role as Roger Sterling on Mad Men), as his directorial debut is a despondent mess full of miscalculations and grossly implausible scenarios.

The problems, with both story and direction, begin almost immediately, when Leon (Caleb Landry Jones), a racist, foul-mouthed, twentysomething laborer, is killed at work by an elderly African-American man whom he had been bullying. Misplaced morality consistent with small-town insularity becomes manifest when the coworkers cover up the murder as a workplace accident. Leon’s mother, Jeanie (Christina Hendricks), is obviously distraught by this and given virtually no support by her husband Mickey (Hoffman), a drunk who supports the family through various activities such as stealing and gambling.

God’s Pocket is the blue-collar neighborhood in South Philly where all this takes place, a small community predicated upon close-knit ties and a seeming inability to transcend rank. Slattery directs this plodding melodrama accordingly: each character amounts to nothing more than a sad-sack of regrets, the audience given virtually nothing or no one to root for. Hendricks is stuck in weepy-mom mode most of the movie, and so too are the other characters arrested in an ill-advised state of misery and one-dimensionality. Her character rightly suspects foul play, and the film, mostly, follows this line of reasoning. One silly plot contrivance after another ensues, including, believe it or not, an extended scene in which Leon’s embalmed body is carted around in a meat truck.

Slattery assembled a dynamite cast, rounded out with Eddie Marsan, John Turturro and Richard Jenkins, but the overwhelming joylessness of the direction precludes any one actor from excelling. Even Hoffman barely registers, forcing you to wonder if it’s from a fault in Slattery’s direction or the ongoing addiction he was battling off camera. Either way, God’s Pocket is best tucked out of sight.

Opens May 9