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God's Pocket

by Leonard Maltin
May 9, 2014 9:44 PM
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John Turturro-Philip Seymour Hoffman-680
Courtesy of IFC Films

This is the kind of film I usually root for: a collage of vignettes about offbeat, colorful characters, played by an A-list cast including the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman. But God’s Pocket doesn’t quite work, and that’s a shame. Actor John Slattery, best known for his role as Roger Sterling on Mad Men, directed and co-wrote this adaptation of Pete Dexter’s novel, which takes place in an insular Philadelphia neighborhood where everybody knows everybody else’s business. The setting is the 1980s but the story doesn’t seem to belong to that time or any other that’s recognizably real. The lusty, cynical, hard-drinking characters might be more at home in a Damon Runyon story of the 1930s, but even then you’d have to call them fanciful.

Christina Hendricks-485
Courtesy of IFC Films

Hoffman is the central figure, a world-weary dreamer and schemer who’s never been fully accepted in the neighborhood because he wasn’t born there. He’s the kind of guy who just can’t catch a break: always in debt, in the doghouse with his wife, and reduced to begging favors from people who have little or no faith in him.

Virtually every character in the movie is played by a talented actor, so there is pleasure to be had just watching Richard Jenkins, John Turturro, Christina Hendricks, Eddie Marsan, John Turturro, Peter Gerety and Joyce Van Patten go through their paces. You can sense what Slattery is aiming for in this darkly comic fable, but it never quite gels. Good acting and good intentions count for something, but the results fall short. Chalk this one up as a disappointment. 

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  • Norm | May 9, 2014 3:45 PMReply

    You know you would think that film makers and such would check the "dailies" to see if they are getting the results needed, does the scene work or not ? Woody Allen changes direction when he doesn't get what he is looking for and develops what does work,i.e.,"Annie Hall."
    With all of that talent it sure seems like a waste of time not to get it right.

  • jim | May 9, 2014 6:51 PM

    Norm, it's not that simple. In most cases the same lines are shot from multiple angles, in bits and pieces -- often over several days. In each take, the actors frequently give different line readings, emphasizing certain emotions or undertones in the dialogue. Eventually, the same scene can play many different ways depending on how it's assembled: which takes are used, how they're cut together, when the various cuts and angles occur -- not to mention how sound and music are used and where the scene eventually appears in the film (it does not always end up where it appeared in the script). All of those things are crucial components in how a scene plays, and the movie as a whole depends on the interactions of every scene and every shot with all the others.

    Obviously, filmmakers can only work with the footage they've got, but capturing the raw material during the principal photography phase is only one early stage (after the essential prep work in pre-production) of a movie's creation. And that doesn't even count all the weeks/months/years of work that might go into writing and developing and re-writing and re-writing and re-writing the script before and after it's green-lit.

    John Slattery helmed one of the best (and best-directed) episodes of "Mad Men" ever (season 4's "The Rejected"), so I'm definitely going to give "God's Pocket" a shot.

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