God’s Pocket (IFC Films, R)

film gods-pocket-75Maybe filmmakers of the future should take this as a sign that Peter Dexter’s books perhaps aren’t the best suited for film adaptations.

 

 

 

film gods-pocket-500

Anybody who watches Mad Men can tell you that John Slattery plays one of the best characters, Roger Sterling; anyone who really pays attention to Mad Men can tell you that Slattery is also one of the series’ most accomplished directors, which is saying something, since none of its directors are bad. Slattery is making his feature film debut with God’s Pocket, which is exciting news, and the good news keeps rolling in from there, mostly in terms of its cast. Slattery was smart enough to poach Mad Men co-star Christina Hendricks (Joan on that show), one of the most glaringly underused actresses in cinema today, and the male lead is the dearly departed Philip Seymour Hoffman. The supporting cast is rounded out by the likes of other notables such as John Turturro, Richard Jenkins, and The Wire’s Domenick Lombardozzi. The film itself is one of those quick and dirty movies in which people treat one another shittily for 88 minutes, and then it’s over. I love movies like that.

I did not love this movie. It isn’t exactly awful, more just mediocre, but considering the pedigree it’s a huge disappointment. The film seems to be shooting for the tone of something like Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (which also starred Hoffman), but instead is a little too boring and goofy, fitted with lazy characterization and punctuated by unconvincing fight scenes.

Hoffman plays Mickey Scarpato, a loser who commits low-level crimes, works a crappy job in a meat truck, has an asshole son (Caleb Landry Jones as Leon), and bets on horses a bunch. Mickey, despite being a bit of a turd, looks like a leader of men compared to most of the rest of the cast: Lombardozzi’s Sal is a brutal thug; Turturro’s Bird Capezio seems like a live-action Lionel Hutz; and Jenkins’ Richard Shellburn, despite being a local hero for his loving portraits of the town in his local newspaper column, is an alcoholic, would-be-ladies’-man dickhead. At least Mickey has a lovely wife, Jeanie (Hendricks), which is more than most of these other guys can say.

The plot gets rolling when Leon torments an older black coworker at their construction job and the coworker kills Leon, only to have the (arguably justifiable) murder covered up by the rest of the coworkers. Jeanie’s mommy-sense goes off that it wasn’t an accident as everyone is claiming, so she puts Mickey up to investigating it, and Mickey uses his connections to bad guys to get to the bottom of it. You can kind of guess how it’s going to play out from there.

In addition to directing the film, Slattery co-wrote the screenplay with Alex Metcalf from a script based on the novel by Peter Dexter. It’s hard to pinpoint just what went wrong with this film, given that everything about it looks promising, but close to nothing in it really works the way it should, and I think the most blame lies with this script. Though he sometimes directs episodes of Mad Men, Slattery never writes them, so maybe his talent doesn’t lie there. And while I haven’t read any of Dexter’s novels, I have seen a few films based on them, and so far haven’t liked any of them. On that regard, we can at least celebrate that God’s Pocket isn’t as bad as Lee Daniels’ 2012 train wreck The Paperboy, which also looked promising but was exponentially worse than Pocket is. Maybe filmmakers of the future should take this as a warning sign that Dexter’s books perhaps aren’t the best suited for film adaptations. | Pete Timmermann

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