On John Slattery’s “God’s Pocket” and Why He Should Stick to Acting
Philip Seymour Hoffman is one of those festival sweethearts that will never be able to do ill in the eyes of the people. His track record speaks for itself. The downside of this is that he probably gets asked to do five different movies every day. Still, when John Slattery aka Roger Sterling approaches you about an inner-city, organized crime movie set in Phiilly during the 70’s with John Turturro, Christina Hendricks and Richard Jenkins, I can understand that it may seem like a safe bet.
Slattery, who has directed five different episodes of “Mad Men,” demonstrates a complete lack of understanding in character development with his first feature film.
At its best, this movie was like “The Town” meets “Before The Devil Knows Your Dead” but with characters that go nowhere. IMDB describes it as “A guy named Mickey gets in over his head when he tries to cover up the accidental death of his stepson,” yet even that sentence gives Mickey (Hoffman) too much credit. He is lazy and sad but never considers the fact that Leon’s death might’ve involved foul play. The truth is Leon was struck by a black man he had been throwing racial slurs at, but no one who witnessed it says a word. We wait for Mickey to stumble across the truth, ever slowly, but it never happens. He is a lazy, sad man in a sad neighborhood where everyone else is sad too. And the worst part? His attitude towards the death and his wife and the lowlifes around him isn’t even funny. His performance feels rushed and without direction from the director. It feels as though he showed up on set, played a mixture of classic Hoffman roles, and moved on to the next film.
His wife (Hendricks) spends more of the movie crying then speaking or otherwise revealing who she really is. Even her suspicions of foul play go nowhere. We don’t know anything about her by the end of the film that we didn’t suspect at the beginning. Jenkins‘ performance as an equally sad has-been journalist on the case of Leon’s death is the most dynamic and his narration helps to create a gloomy mystique, but it doesn’t fit into what was billed as a “dark comedy.”
“God’s Pocket,” is classic style-over-substance and the strong ensemble cast makes it that much more disappointing. It didn’t help when Producer Sam Bisbee got up on stage for the Q&A and demonstrated little knowledge of the original novel written by Pete Dexter. Nor did he seem to care about much else other than IFC Films’ — which apparently must see cash cow potential in the star-studded feature — acquisition of the picture. Slattery’s incredibly derivative first feature is the brand of disappointment I didn’t expect out of such talented actors or to find at Sundance in the first place. On the bright side, it helped to contrast and highlight the other amazing, expectation-surpassing films here at the festival.