In John Slattery’s movie, based on Peter Dexter’s 1983 novel of the same name, God’s Pocket is a run-down area of Phliadelphia, (based apparently on a real Philadelphia location, known as Devil’s Pocket.)
God’s Pocket is not so much a close-knit community, as a closed one, distrustful of outsiders, bizarrely proud of its violent ways and general dysfunction.That’s how the alcoholic newspaper columnist, Richard Shelburn (Richard Jenkins) sees it anyway, in his acerbic and somewhat patronising fashion.
Mickey Scarpato (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is a gambler and a thief whose accomplice in crime is ‘Bird’ (John Turturro).
Meanwhile, Scarpatos’ adoptive son, Leon (Caleb Landry Jones) meets a violent end at his workplace. His mother Jeanie (Christina Jenkins) believes that Leon’s death was not an accident. Shelburn the newspaper columnist, promises to investigate a possible cover-up while trying to seduce her.
Add in the edgy undertaker Smilin’ Jack Moran (Eddie Marsan), and a couple of other caricatures and what you get is something like Roddy Doyle’s Barrytown, Dublin transferred to Philadelphia.
Having won the audience over with a gritty realist beginning, director John Slattery (Mad Men’s Roger Sterling, no less) dissipates initial impact in a comedy that tries to be black but ends up grey. Sure, there are laughs, but they’re few enough.
As you might expect, Seymour Hoffman is much bigger than the movie, tough, mean yet somehow likeable as Scarpato. One can’t help but wish he had been offered a better film as his brilliant career ended.