Blu-Ray Review: Philip Seymour Hoffman Explores ‘God’s Pocket’


John Slatttery’s affection for Pete Dexter’s novel God’s Pocket turned into a creative labor of love which took, in Slattery’s estimates, ten years to bring to the screen, and there’s a bunch of reasons to give this indie flick a shot.

God’s Pocket centers on Mickey Scarpato (Philip Seymour Hoffman), an average Joe living in a blue collar Philadelphia town that’s called “God’s Pocket.” Slattery’s Mad Men co-star Christina Hendricks is Mickey’s wife, a woman with a ton of love in her heart, especially for her ne-er-do-well son Leon (Caleb Landry Jones). When Leon supposedly dies from a construction accident, Mickey hides a few details from his wife, and when a local columnist (Richard Jenkins) comes sniffing around God’s Pocket to investigate Leon’s death, everything gets a bit more complicated.

God's Pocket (IFC Films)
God’s Pocket (IFC Films)

John Turturro co-stars as Arthur, Mickey’s good buddy and co-conspirator in their two-bit scams and nighttime gambling ventures. Eddie Marsan from Showtime’s Ray Donovan stars as the funeral director who is furious when Mickey can’t pay for Leon’s casket.

One of the biggest predicaments of God’s Pocket comes with Mickey’s attempts to keep Leon’s corpse presentable for the funeral, which eventually leads our protagonist to hiding his stepson’s body in a meat van. Although it’s a situation filled with its share of dark humor, the narrative’s main focus lies in each person’s struggles to survive within this small, somewhat suffocating town. When everyone knows your business, and each street leads to a proverbial dead end, where’s one to go?

Special features on the God’s Pocket Blu-ray includes several deleted scenes (one sequence, which I wish Slattery kept in the flick, further solidifies Leon’s irritable personality) and director’s commentary.

For directing and acting fans, the audio commentary is a must, as Slattery gives a no-nonsense breakdown on the challenges of making God’s Pocket. With over 25 locations to shoot (most of the flick had Yonkers doubling as Philadelphia) and over 40 speaking parts, Slattery, who also co-wrote the adaptation, had his hands full.

One highlight of the commentary has Slattery discussing what actors are really looking for during a scene set-up:

“The best film actors don’t want to know what exactly is going to happen. They want to know the conditions of the scene. They know their lines. They know where they’re supposed to be. They know where they camera is. The rest of it – they want to figure out in the moment.”

Arthur Capezio (John Turturro) and Mickey Scarpato (Philip Seymour Hoffman) in God's Pocket - (IFC Films, CR: Lance Acord)
Arthur Capezio (John Turturro) and Mickey Scarpato (Philip Seymour Hoffman) in God’s Pocket – (IFC Films, CR: Lance Acord)

Also in the director’s commentary, Slattery talks about casting Christina Hendricks for the role (he realized she’d be perfect for God’s Pocket while directing her during a Mad Men episode):

Christina is one of those actors that there is so much going on emotionally. She has a face too that is so wide open that you can project all kinds of your own thoughts onto. Which is what an audience does, I think.

God's Pocket - Christina Hendricks as Jeanie Scarpato (IFC Films)
God’s Pocket – Christina Hendricks as Jeanie Scarpato (IFC Films, CR: Lance Acord)

Slattery, who’s directed several episodes of Mad Men, turns in a solid feature directing debut with God’s Pocket, which was a Grand Jury Prize nominee at the Sundance Film Festival. It tells a specific story (Slattery sets the narrative in 1978) of a guy who realizes that the walls are slowly closing in on him, even when he’s trying to do the right thing.

Without giving too much away, Slattery makes proper use of Blind Faith’s “Can’t Find My Way Home” during the story’s third act. Even if Mickey’s having a hard run at finding his sense of direction, Slattery’s storytelling is right on the money.

God’s Pocket, from IFC Films and MPI Media Group, hits Blu-ray and DVD on September 9.

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