John Slattery (Mad Men) offers up God’s Pocket, his feature directorial debut, to the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. This family/crime drama seems like it could be inspired by (or the basis for) any number of Tom Waits songs. That is to say, unkind to its characters, bleak in its worldview, but ultimately a unique and colorful tale.
- Director: John Slattery
- Screenwriter(s): John Slattery & Alex Metcalf (Screenplay), Peter Dexter (Novel)
- Cinematographer(s): Lance Acord
- Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Christina Hendricks, John Turturro, Richard Jenkins, Eddie Marsan, Domenick Lombardozzi, Caleb Landry Jones, Peter Gerety
In the blue collar, industrial neighborhood of God’s Pocket, small time crook Mickey’s (Hoffman) stepson (Jones) is killed in an on-the-job “accident.” When he attempts to spare his wife (Hendricks) and the community the hardship of confronting the truths surrounding the death, things go from bad to worse as he finds himself caught in an increasing number of lies and debts. Then, when a local reporter (Jenkins) stirs the pot with his own investigation, things go from bad to worse.
Heavy Performances: In God’s Pocket, Philip Seymour Hoffman seems as if he has been carrying the weight of the world for far too long, and it has taken a toll on him both physically and emotionally. His exhaustion and frustration is bone deep, which makes the storm surrounding his character’s circumstances grander than it would be to just some two-bit gangster. Similarly, the extent of Hendticks’ grief, in the wake of her loss, is unshakeable. Watching such a naturally gorgeous woman suffer so badly is just wrenching.
Ensemble Cast: This movie is stacked with actors who many people may simply know as “that guy from all those things.” Sure, actors like Turturro and Jenkins have gotten their due in the last decade or so thanks to the prestige and longevity of their careers. But it is fun getting to watch actors like The Wire’s Domenick Lombardozzi and Peter Gerety, as well as Eddie Marsen (The World’s End, Sherlock) hold their own against these established and notable character actors.
Half Measures: While there’s nothing overtly wrong or disappointing with God’s Pocket, I can’t help but feel that all the stylistic elements could have been taken a step further. What I’m sure is reverence for authenticity almost feels like a muzzle. If these characters are meant to be gangsters, barflies, and miscreants, with whom we’re not entirely meant to sympathize, then why not dial up the caricature a bit more? John Turturro’s performance as Mickey’s partner in crime may be an exception, but it’s still a much shorter leash than he’s kept on in say, any Coen Brothers film.
God’s Pocket is a solid drama, and definitely one of the better films I’ve seen at Sundance so far. However, knowing just how charming and capable Slattery is as a performer, and that he could apply those skills to his directorial vision, it does leave little something to be desired; Something that would have really set it apart as one of the best films of the festival.