Rated R. Running time: 1 hour 28 min.
Our content ratings (0-10): Violence 0; Language 3; Sex/Nudity 0.
Our star rating (1-5): 4
Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit.
There is an inescapable poignancy hanging over first-time director John Slattery’s little film because its star Philip Seymour Hoffman died so needlessly shortly after its completion. Set in the south Philadelphia blue-collar neighborhood that gives the dark comedy its name, it is populated with the kind of characters the Coen brothers would love. Within this dark tale, there is little love, but considerable loyalty. Richard Jenkins, playing popular newspaper columnist Richard Shellburn who seems to have a combination of printer’s ink and alcohol running through his veins, narrates the tragic tale.
Hoffman is small time crook Mickey Scarpato, married to the gorgeous Jeanie (Christina Hendricks), the latter who is not quite as devoted to him we soon learn. God’s Pocket is a place that, we are told, does not forgive anyone who was born outside its grim confines. Mickey is accepted because he has married a native, but still is mindful that he is an outsider. He and best pal Bird (John Turturro) busy themselves with hijacking a refrigerated truck of beef and then trying to sell it to corrupt butcher shop owners. This becomes complicated when he also has to hide a body in the truck for a short time. Would you buy meat from a guy hauling around a dead body? As one butcher complains, “It might be contaminated.” How the body winds up in the stolen truck is an amusing tidbit that I won’t spoil.
The body is that of Mickey’s racist slob of a stepson Leon (Caleb Landry Jones), a foul-mouthed lout who loves to twirl his strait razor and intimidate people with it. He tries this one time too often among his construction co-workers when he threatens an elderly African American who is not about to take his abuse. The old man picks up a heavy pipe and brains Leon. The boss and other workers all tell the police that the death was an accident. Not wanting to waste their time on such a slime bag of a victim, the officers accept the story and close their investigation.
Jeanie does not accept the cops’ story, so to please her Mickey agrees to get the construction workers to reveal more. For help he asks the local gangster to which he reports to do him a favor by sending two of his goons to interrogate the workers, and especially their boss. This sets into motion a series of events, some of them very surprising—the reaction of the construction boss and the seemingly gently wife of a flower shop proprietor when threatened by the two goons!—that make the plot into a zigzag affair. Shellburn also investigates the death, but when he goes to interview Jean, he lays his notebook aside, and they soon wind up in her bedroom. Like the other women of God’s Pocket, she is flattered to attract such a celebrity, thus lowering her defenses.
This little film is full of rich details of life in a neighborhood that prosperity has passed by. The characters are fascinating: the funeral director himself, a slick character who smoothly guides Mickey, and later Jean, away from the “cheap” casket to the expensive one; the married pair who run the local flower shop; the construction boss who turns out to be tougher than the gangsters had imagined; the barflies in the local bar all stick some folding money into the jar the barkeep has set out for contributions to Leon’s funeral; and, of course, the main characters themselves. The violence is brutal, so this film is not for everyone. Some also will recoil at the language, but for those looking for a film that explores the seamy side of life and finding a measure of humanity there, this film will satisfy, even its ending that is by no means a conventional one. God might be difficult to see in this neighborhood that bears his name, but its denizens are the sort with whom his Son once associated.