Despite some strong performances, the dirty characters of God’s Pocket are suffocated by a bland, going-nowhere car-crash of a plot which interweaves myriad storylines with insufficient skill and insubstantial depth.It’s the kind of story that Irvine Welsh would have laced up with rampant black humour and made into a surreal, frenetic affair, or that Mike Leigh would have turned into bleak poignance, but God’s Pocket – played, ostensibly, straight, but with a proclivity towards being tonally imbalanced – has very little to tell indeed, and certainly nothing that hasn’t been told before, and with considerably more flair.
It starts with the simple, tell-all quote: "The working men of God's Pocket are simple men. Everyone here has stolen something from somebody else, or when they were kids, they set someone's house on fire, or they ran away when they should have stayed and fought.".From this we are supposed to glean all that we need to know about the people who live in this small community, but actually it ends up being all we ever get to learn about these characters. The music may be moody, the atmosphere may be dour, and the luck may be down for everybody involved, but there’s little – other than perhaps the late, great, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, striking out in a surprisingly understated but punchy performance as a God’s Pocket outsider – that rides even vaguely in the vicinity of fresh originality here. This is just another tale of a corrupt, self-policing, self-destructive little neighbourhood where nobody is innocent, and where everybody ultimately suffocates in the doomed cesspit of hell.
Of course it doesn’t help that Writer/Director/Producer John Slattery – making his directorial debut here after being a stalwart in the TV series Mad Men – simply hasn’t got enough seconds to spare in the brief 88 minute runtime to be able to fully flesh out either the neighbourhood or the characters within. Understandably, he has to rely upon cliché to a certain extent; we’ve seen these neighbourhoods depicted in films before, and this is no different, but there are only so many unfortunate, unfulfilled, unpleasant people you want to encounter in any single environment.
A familiar supporting cast struggle to keep their heads above water. John Turturro coasts in a role he could play asleep; Richard Jenkins doesn’t even appear to be in the right movie; Eddie Marsan can’t help being his usual unpleasant self; and Christina Hendricks is woefully miscast, yet again. It’s only really Hoffman who stands out, although even he can’t rescue the piece, nor can he rescue the character – as the tagline would want you to believe, the only thing that can’t be forgiven is not being from God’s Pocket, and yet his outsider character never, once, feels like he’s not from God’s Pocket.
If it weren’t for Hoffman’s performance, and the semi-effective atmosphere of the piece, there’d be even less here to recommend, and this certainly has nothing new to offer.
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