There’s a neighborhood like God’s Pocket in every major metropolitan area. Downtrodden areas filled with people who wish they’d gotten out when they could have, but in almost every case never really had a chance to escape. This one is located in South Philly and is home to “Mickey Scarpato” (Phillip Seymour Hoffman Hoffman) and his wife “Jeanie” (Christina Hendricks). She’s a native of the Pocket and he’s moved in and is still considered an outsider by those who were born there. They live in a house across from his regular watering hole, with her son “Leon” (Caleb Landry Jones) who is an adult handful.
On the day Mickey is doing a job with his buddy “Bird” (John Turturro) and a gangster named “Sal” (Domenick Lombardozzi), there’s a problem at the construction site where Leon works. He winds up dead. Everyone there says it was an accident but Jeanie is convinced that’s not what happened. Mickey, who got stiffed by Bird on the job they just did, finds himself low on funds and with a big funeral bill he must foot. He tries to work out a deal with the local funeral home guy, “Smilin’ Jack” (Eddie Marsan) but this just adds to Mickey’s woes.
Meanwhile, a local newspaper columnist, “Richard Shellburn” (Richard Jenkins) is trying to find something to motivate him to write his columns as he staggers through a daily drunken haze. The newspaper fouls up the details of Leon’s death and Shellburn is handed the punitive assignment of doing a column about the deceased. He is fascinated by Jeanie and she becomes the object of his affection.
This is director John Slattery’s first feature and it’s a strong initial effort. Films where the audience doesn’t really root for anyone are a tougher sell and this isn’t a highly commercial film as a result. It doesn’t make a clear choice between taking the dark or the light approach to life in a depressing, suffocating neighborhood and that detracts from it a bit. That doesn’t stop the talent-laden cast from delivering some very strong turns, particularly Jenkins as the alcoholic dreamer and Turturro as a man overwhelmed by the life choices he made, desperately in search of the light at the end of a seemingly endless tunnel.
Even though it isn’t his finest work, God’s Pocket is a stark reminder of the immensity of the loss of Philip Seymour Hoffman. One of the finest actors of his or any generation, he had this ability to find new levels of multi-faceted performance. He took written creations from a page (or monitor if you prefer) and brought them into vibrant existence before our eyes. He is sorely missed.