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Zimbio Flash Film Review: 'God's Pocket'

The mean streets of South Philly come to life in this tale of loyalty and murder.

(IFC Films)
(IFC Films)

SUMMARY: "It didn't happen like they say it happened." In the late 1970s working class neighborhood of God’s Pocket, your business is mine and mine yours. Families extend beyond the walls of houses and apartments. Secrets aren’t easily kept and have the potential to upend lives unlike little else. So when crazy Leon (Caleb Landry Jones) turns up dead at his construction job, everyone tells the same story. But Leon's mother ain't buying it. She and a drunken local reporter start asking questions. But the answers they find aren't black and white. 

What Works?

The Primal Neighborhood of God's Pocket

The working class stench of Pete Dexter's novel is conveyed beautifully onscreen by director John Slattery and his production designers. The story takes place in the working class South Philadelphia neighborhood that's the film's namesake. The asphalt is shoddy and the buildings ancient and unkempt. But the more impressive achievement may be the pitiless way Slattery portrays his characters amongst the grime of the neighborhood. These are proud people and although they're "dirty faced, uneducated, and neat as a pin inside." And "argue about things they don't understand: politics, religion." Those qualities should be cherished, although the locals may not understand the compliment.

Philip Seymour Hoffman

Hoffman, who plays Mickey in God's Pocket, submits a typically natural, compelling performance in one of his final films. Mickey is Leon's stepdad, married to Jeanie (Christina Hendricks), and tasked by his wife with discovering the truth behind her son's death. But Mickey doesn't care about the truth. He knows Leon was a psycho and whatever happened to him, the kid had it coming. Instead Mickey and his buddy Arthur (John Turturro) get back to their daily hustle: stealing meat trucks and gambling. Mickey is a grinder, living day to day in the only way he knows how. Hoffman carries the weight of Mickey's world on his shoulders and it all shows up on the actor's face. He's constantly squinting and disbelieving while trying to do what's best for his family. The movie finds him shirtless, puking, carrying a dead body, gambling, or sprinting down the street in any given scene. 

Part of a Rich Tradition

God's Pocket is the latest in a long line of "neighborhood films"— movies that use a setting as a character. Everyone remembers Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets or Taxi Driver as prime examples, but God's Pocket is more like the Dennis Lehane-adapted Boston films of the early 2000s: Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone. Lehane has cited Dexter as an influence. He was obviously taken with Dexter's ear for dialogue and fondness of places most people wouldn't step foot in. More than anything, God's Pocket relishes the notion of "home." 

Zimbio Flash Film Review: 'God's Pocket'
(IFC Films)

What Doesn't Work?

Character Development

It's easy to spot wild personalities in God's Pocket. A vagabond fishes beer bottles from a trash can for the final swigs. A construction foreman ragdolls two mob enforcers. A varicose-veined old lady shoots two men who come into her flower shop. A local celebrity reporter (Richard Jenkins) wakes up with booze and falls asleep the same way while forcing himself onto women inbetween. The personalities of God's Pocket are endless and the acting superb, but we never get to know anyone. Is the town itself to blame for the rampant hopelessness amongst its citizens? It's up in the air, since we never get to know anyone. The characters exist in the here and now and the past is gone. That's fine, but the result is the audience doesn't care about any of them.

Final Grade: B-

God's Pocket

RELEASE DATE: May 9, 2014 [Limited]

DIRECTOR: John Slattery

WRITERS:  John Slattery, Alex Metcalf, based on the novel by Pete Dexter

CAST: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Richard Jenkins, Christina Hendricks, Caleb Landry Jones, Domenick Lombardozzi, John Turturro, Eddie Marsan, Peter Gerety, Molly Price, Joyce Van Patten

MUSIC: Nathan Larson


RUNTIME: 88 minutes

NETFLIX WOULD ALSO RECOMMEND: Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone, Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Matewan, Slap Shot, Paris Trout, North Country

Trailers, Clips, & Posters

Zimbio Flash Film Review: 'God's Pocket'
(IFC Films)

View Philip Seymour Hoffman Pictures »