God's Pocket, otherwise known as God, Philip Seymour Hoffman Deserved a Better Final Role.
First, the good news. Um...give me a minute...everybody likes Richard Jenkins, right? I like Richard Jenkins, and he does a fine job as a drunken lech of a Philly columnist. And Hoffman was one of those actors who could do a good job no matter what the material.
Now, the bad, with the requisite spoiler alerts:
The movie tells the story of a small-time hustler (Hoffman) trying to pay for the funeral of his wife's (Christina Hendricks) son, who gets killed in one of the most logical murders in film history—after threatening an elderly black coworker (with the exception of a couple of extras, the only black character in the movie) for no reason than because he (the son) is a psychopath, he turns away in triumph, only to have the black guy brain him with a lead pipe.
(I mean, I spent about five minutes afterward going, "Well, since it's not really self-defense, I guess technically that is murder. Still, though..." It's so logical as to be manipulative. Yeah, they had to kill the character to provide the narrative, but it didn't have to be so tidy.)
What follows is a disjointed series of whacky-ish scenes in which Hoffman's character tries (and usually fails) to get the $6,000 necessary for the coffin and funeral experiences. Here he is trying to sell sides of beef hijacked from a truck to a local restaurant, only to have the chef refuse because his stepson's body is in the other side of his refrigerated truck ("I put it on the other side because I thought that might be a problem for you."). Here he is taking the $1000 or so that the patrons of the local bar (more on them later) raised for the funeral and betting it at the OTB, only to have the horse come in second—a scene so cliched that not even Hoffman's very good acting of it could come to the rescue. Here he is trying to sell his truck ("Don't look inside!") to a buddy, only to have the guy's mechanic take it for a test drive and have an accident, spilling the corpse into the street along with the unsold meat. And here he is, finally getting the funeral director to relent by slapping him a couple of times.
In the meantime, Hendrick's character, desperate to get to the bottom of her son's death (she insists that he was a saint), recruits the cops, the mob (through Hoffman's character's connections), and finally Richard Jenkins's character, who agrees to help only because he wants to get her in bed.
If you watch this movie (and you might well do so, with the cast and all), you will, about twenty minutes in, start asking the screen, "What the hell are you doing, Slattery?" That's because John Slattery (of Roger Sterling fame, directing his first movie) can't pick a tone. Or a film speed. Or a soundtrack. So you get upbeat 70s music as Hoffman glumly has a beer at the bar, followed immediately dramatic music as he drives across town, and then later him running after what he thinks is his stolen truck, then the film going into slow motion as he witnesses it crash, followed by a first-person POV shot of the sky as he comes too. It's not even that the choices don't all make sense—much of the time they do—it's just that they're so jarring as to seem accidental.
The biggest problem with the movie is the tone. On one hand, I came away thinking about all of the times my lazy, fat, incompetent ass has watched Mad Men and said, "Yeah, I could fit in that world," because the movie is filled with moments of what that would look like. Here's Philip Seymour Hoffman plowing Christina Hendricks (yeah, that's probably inappropriate language, but if Mantis Toboggan can get away with it...), and here's Richard Jenkins getting a handie from a recent college graduate, and here's Richard Jenkins having sex with Christina Hendricks. The movie isn't saturated with sex, but the few sex scenes there are left me, who is well familiar with the fantasy life of your average unlovable American, going, "Yeah, like that's going to happen."
The other tone problem comes from the handling of most of the characters. God's Pocket is a play on Devil's Pocket, a neighborhood in Philly that is apparently known for high poverty, alcoholism, and crime. And boy, howdy, do those poor bastards drink and fight their way through life! Just about every scene features some combination of the three (and many have all thee going on at the same time). In the end, having written what he thinks is a respectful column about the unwashed masses of the Pocket, Jenkins's character goes into the bar for a beer, only to be savagely beaten and left for dead in the street. The poor—they're just like people, only way more violent, especially if you suggest that they're violent.
I really wanted it to work. Especially since one of the trailers was for The Drop, James Gandolfini's last film role, which looks like a pretty standard petty wise guy gets in trouble movie (but which I'll still probably see); I thought, "Wow, that looks disappointing, but at least this should still be pretty good." The saddest thing I can say about God's Pocket? Philip Seymour Hoffman actually is set to appear in the next couple of Hunger Games movies next year, so maybe they'll provide a fitting send-off.