[This review was originally published as part of our SXSW 2014 coverage. It is being re-posted to coincide with God’s Pocket‘s theatrical release.]
Director: John Slattery
Release Date: January 17, 2014 (Sundance)
Dark comedies sometimes appear to be the easiest genre to work in. They can be gruesome, violent, brutal, unforgiving, eye-opening, over-the-top, exaggerated, complete satires of a film that, for better or worse, get a bit of a pass due to its branding. Is this lazy? Perhaps. When done right, we get films like Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs. Mishandled, however, and the result is like the endless amount of straight-to-DVD films that have followed in Vincent and Jules’ wake.
With his feature length directorial debut, John Slattery (Mad Men‘s Roger Sterling) delivers God’s Pocket, a neighborhood-driven film in which an assortment of pratfalls present conflicts to the characters in precarious manners. Which side of the “dark comedy” spectrum does God’s Pocket fall on? Read on and find out.
Mickey (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is a God’s Pocket transplant, a small neighborhood in Philadelphia where the natives stay native generation to generation. He runs small-time jobs with his friend (John Turturro) for a mob-esque figure, his wife, Jeannie (Christina Hendricks), doesn’t care much for him, and his step-son, Leon (Caleb Landry Jones), is a racist pig. When an altercation at Leon’s job leaves him dead, Jeannie’s Motherly intuition suspects something is amiss. While Mickey turns to his mob friends for help, a famed local reporter (and heavy alcoholic), Richard Shelburn (Richard Jenkins) takes it upon himself to discover the truth… and much more.
The focus of the film isn’t so much on Leon’s death, but on the various characters residing in God’s Pocket. Everybody from the funeral director (Eddie Marsan) to the local barkeep portray not characters, but caricatures that play into the overall plot… for better or worse. The problem is that, outside of Hoffman and Turturro, every character is a gimmick, an empty shell lacking real personality or character. The tone of the film shifts between a dark comedy and a psuedo-noir genre, but isn’t able to find its identity. It’s unfortunate, too, because Hoffman’s performance in God’s Pocket is great in spite of the uneven writing.