If, like me, you were hoping that “God's Pocket,” starring the late Philip Seymour Hoffman in one of his final films, would feature yet another of the actor's distinctive turns, you are fresh out of luck.
Hoffman's character, Mickey Scarpato, is a guy whose luck, if he ever had any, ran out long ago. The role should have been a very good fit for an actor so skilled at submerging himself in complicated characters. But Hoffman struggles. You can see it on screen, from the downturned mouth that keeps being forgotten, to the voice that sounds colored by congestion instead of Mickey's depressingly downtrodden life.
Based on Pete Dexter's grim and gripping novel about the bad breaks of lowlifes in a gritty corner of South Philly, Dexter's affection for his miscreants gets lost in translation. Instead the script, written by director John Slattery and Alex Metcalf, drifts too quickly into blue-collar cliches, leaving its interesting collection of characters only half-drawn at best.
It is a particular pity given both the sadness of Hoffman's death from a drug overdose to the creative force that was also lost as a result.
Slattery, best known these days as Don Draper's mentor and boss in “Mad Men,” has surrounded himself with an enviable cast for his feature directing debut. Oscar nominee Richard Jenkins, Christina Hendricks, another “Mad Men” familiar, and the so often amazing John Turturro join Hoffman for this bumpy ride.
The story unfolds over a few difficult days in Mickey's already difficult life. His wife Jeanie (Hendricks) barely tolerates him; his stepson Leon (Caleb Landry Jones) is a psychotic with a switchblade and deep racial resentments. Mickey's got mounting gambling debts, his meat truck is more often carrying contraband than steak, and suddenly he's got to bury that dog of a stepson, “accidentally” killed on a construction site.