May 21, 2012 – Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows I write about Philadelphia whenever I can. I also tend to gravitate towards movies and novels about my home city. When I discovered that the movie “God’s Pocket” focused on a local neighborhood in Philadelphia, I had to see it.
The screenplay is based on the novel of the same name by Pete Dexter, and is the movie directorial debut of John Slattery (Roger Sterling, of “Mad Men”, who honed his directing skills on a few episodes of the popular AMC series).
Dexter, a columnist for The Philadelphia Daily News in the 1970s, wrote the novel after experiencing his own drama; a mob of locals from God’s Pocket beat him severely one night because they were upset about a column he wrote and how they were portrayed in it. Today, the area between center city and South Philadelphia, west of Broad Street, barely resembles the neighborhood depicted in the movie. Like many other areas in the city, it has regentrified, and now is known as the “Graduate Hospital” area, an upscale neighborhood with nary a seedy bar in sight.
Set in the late 1970s, the author tells the story of Leon (Caleb Landry Jones), a young street punk who is killed in an “accident” at work, his stepfather Mickey (Philip Seymour Hoffman), and his mother (Christina Hendricks). The story shows the underbelly of the former blue-collar neighborhood, and all of its bleakness. It unfolds over the three days following Leon’s death, leading up to his funeral.
No one’s talking about the “accident”, and you get the feeling a lot of residents stay quiet about such events. Mickey plans a quick funeral to bury the body and put it all to rest, but a local celebrity columnist begins to look into the matter after coaxing from Leon’s mother, who believes there is something more to the story. That’s when things get really complicated.
The talented cast makes you believe you are observing a slice of daily life for those who live in this tough community, and that incidents like this are the rule rather than the exception. Hoffman, in one of his last roles, plays his character low-key and stoic, and even though he appears to feel nothing, the audience feels for him as he struggles to do the right thing for his wife and stepson. The always pleasing Richard Jenkins plays the reporter, and John Turtorro is cast as Mickey’s friend and side-kick, who’s consistently in trouble of his own.
The film is touted as a black comedy, and although I did laugh at the irony in the story line once or twice, I think comedy is a stretch. Fans of realistic crime dramas in tough urban areas will like this film. It reminded me of the dramas that usually take place on the tougher streets of Boston, (“The Fighter” comes to mind). Interestingly, Slattery grew up on in Boston, like Matt Damon and the Afflecks, who also like to tell these stories. I didn’t love the film, but I liked it enough, although I’m glad it clocked in at a short 88 minutes.
The Indy film is playing in select theaters now, and on Comcast, in On Demand’s Same Day as Theaters promotion.