God’s Pocket movie review: rot in the city

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God's Pocket yellow light

The cast is amazing and the film has a certain grim visual beauty. But ultimately there is little here but ugly senselessness.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

I have not read the source material

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

The cast is amazing: John Turturro, Christina Hendricks, Eddie Marsan, Richard Jenkins, and — in one of his final performances — Philip Seymour Hoffman. *sniff* The film looks beautiful… by which I mean its evocation of the (fictional) 1970s working-class Philadelphia neighborhood known as God’s Pocket is grim, dirty, ugly, miserable, and depressing, as if actor turned first-time director John Slattery shot the entire movie through the grime-encrusted windshield of a big old Detroit gas guzzler. Pity the story meanders all over the place, loses sight of the motivations for some of its sad-sack characters, and doesn’t decide until about three-quarters of the way through that it wants to be a glum black comedy instead of the mean drama it seemed to be aiming for. Hoffman’s (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire) small-time hustler needs to rustle up some money to pay for the funeral of his violent, racist stepson (Caleb Landry Jones: Antiviral) — let’s just say the boy will not be lamented by anyone except his mother (Hendricks: From Up on Poppy Hill) — which leads him and his pal (Turturro: Fading Gigolo) into all sorts of small-time trouble, some of which ends up (unexpectedly) amusing in a dismal sort of way. Meanwhile, a drunken newspaper columnist (Jenkins: White House Down) who fancies himself the voice of the city’s underdogs takes a shine to the dead guy’s mom, which leads to the most frustrating aspect of the film, the (probably inadvertent, but still a problem) implication that a woman don’t need no stinkin’ motives for anything she does, as long as it serves the plot. In the end, there is little here but ugly senselessness justified only by the downtrodden dispiritedness of this world and its inhabitants.

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Sat, Aug 09, 2014 8:09pm

Kind of early in the year for Oscar bait, which is the slot this sort of film usually fits into. I’m not the classic focus-group person who wants a happy ending on everything, but even if your film’s a downer, you can’t get the full effect of blackness without at least having shown a bit of grey.

Michael Nichols
Michael Nichols
Fri, Sep 26, 2014 2:30am

Amen, MaryAnn. I hate to bring this up, but the whole time I was watching the film, I thought the subject matter coupled with the all encompassing acting methodology Hoffman ascribes to (usually with an amazing result) could’ve had something to do with his subsequent suicide. Halfway through, I started t seriously hinking that this could really cause somebody to think they have nothing to live for. Or, if nothing else, utilize self medication to get away from it all (as almost every single character except Hendricks, did to an annoyingly depressing degree) This movie went on far too long and there was no payoff to justify the torture. By the time the end of the movie rolled around, I was believing I was trapped in the tiny dingy, drunken, drug-induced town of God’s Pocket and there was no way I would ever get out either. The next day the feeling still lingers.

MaryAnn Johanson
MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Michael Nichols
Fri, Sep 26, 2014 10:53am

We don’t know that he was trying to kill deliberately himself at that moment. Everything we’ve heard so far suggests it was an accident.