by Robert Barlow
God’s Pocket is one of only three remaining films starring Fairport native and Academy Award-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman that will be released following the actor’s death. The weight of this importance, especially here in Rochester, hits you directly in the chest as Hoffman’s familiar heavyset build and disheveled looks are featured predominantly in the opening shots of the film.
In those very first moments of God’s Pocket, it is impossible to divorce yourself from Hoffman and the tragic event that occurred this past February. But, the minute Hoffman delivers his first line of dialogue as Mickey Scarpato, a two-bit gangster stuck in a couple of impossible situations, you are immediately transported to the gritty, blue-collar South Philadelphia neighborhood of “God’s Pocket” – that was the magic Hoffman possessed.
In the film, directed by Mad Men actor John Slattery, Mickey’s step-son Leon, is killed in a construction "accident," and Mickey quickly tries to bury the bad news with the body. But, when a local newspaper columnist comes sniffing around for the truth, things go from bad to worse as Mickey finds himself stuck in a life-and-death struggle compounded by a body he can't bury, a wife he can't please, and a debt he can't pay.
The colorful world of God’s Pocket is brought to life not just by Hoffman, but by a spectacular cast as well, featuring John Turturro, Christina Hendricks, Richard Jenkins, Peter Gerety, Eddie Marsan and Joyce Van Patten. These veteran actors hold the film together even when the pacing seems a bit disjointed in certain segments. This is especially true of Hendricks and Jenkins, who have several scenes together which require an awkwardness that, in the hands of lesser actors, would fall flat.
God’s Pocket is an interesting mix of crime drama and, in a few scenes, dark comedy in which you are never sure if you are supposed to be laughing with the characters or at them. Make no mistake though – the laughs in God’s Pocket are few and far between as the tension in Mikey’s life builds to a boiling point.
In many ways, God’s Pocket feels like the right way to mourn Hoffman because the role of Mickey allowed him to show off his extraordinary skill and depth as an actor. Every one of Hoffman’s scenes is enhanced by of his presence. God’s Pocket encapsulates everything we love about Hoffman and makes his passing even more profound. After God’s Pocket, we will only have two more chances to witness his transformation into a role for the first time, and that is a devastating reality.
Robert Barlow recently finished his degree at St. John Fisher College. He left college early to write for Messenger Post newspapers, covering everything from murder trials and town government to film festivals and concerts. He is a self-professed movie geek and has attended the Toronto International Film Festival for 10 years.