GOD’S POCKET – Blu-ray review

Philip Seymour Hoffman died in February 2014, but he was such a prolific actor that we’ll be seeing him well into the near future.

“God’s Pocket” is the first of his 2013-14 projects to reach home video, but we still have “A Most Wanted Man,” “Happyish,” and “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay,” Parts 1 & 2 to look forward to. And when I say “look forward to” I mean it. Although “God’s Pocket” covers familiar ground, Hoffman gives it his all and makes you see things from his character’s perspective, elevating a routine script in the process. And that’s not just sentiment talking.

“God’s Pocket” begins with the tritest of voiceovers telling us about these poor people in this poor section of a city who steal cars, who drink, who lie, who are prone to violence, and who never leave the area because they’re God’s Pocketers. All right, so I exaggerate somewhat. But that’s the gist of it. We’ve seen it before, whether it was Hell’s Kitchen or Harlem or another hellish neighborhood where you have to be Rocky to survive. And by “survive” I mean dealing with the boredom and limited options as much as the mean streets that are full of people who aren’t too happy about either of those things.

God’s Pocket was a novel by Pete Dexter, a writer who worked as a columnist for The Philadelphia Daily News, and God’s Pocket is inspired by the Philadelphia neighborhood of Schuylkill, which was also known as Devil’s Pocket. The novel is based on a real-life incident in which a mob of locals severely beat a newspaper columnist over something he wrote about one of them—something about a drug deal that went wrong. Dexter himself was beaten pretty badly. That’s how tough this neighborhood is.

It helps to know that, because otherwise “God’s Pocket,” which has scenic construction that reminds you of a stage play, sometimes FEELS staged. Or maybe poverty and violence are utterly predictable.

Hoffman plays Mickey Scarpato, a small-time crook who keeps his crookery secret from his wife, Jeannie (Christina Hendricks), while living with her in a cramped apartment with her adult son, Leon (Caleb Landry)—who just happens to be a little crazy. How crazy? Well, he practices his “Taxi Driver” tough guy routine (“Are you talkin’ to me? Do you know who I am?”) with a switchblade that looks more like an old-time barber’s razor. But the knife doesn’t matter. This guy is such a clichéd burned out punk that you almost have to laugh. You know he’s going down, and that happens early in the film, leaving Mickey and his friend (John Turturro) to get to the bottom of things . . . though “bottom” in God’s Pocket seems to be the default location.

Enter columnist Richard Shellburn (Richard Jenkins), who uses his local celebrity to bed teens, wives, anything in a skirt. He’s both predator and victim, which seems to be standard operating procedure in God’s Pocket. But despite the great performances you’re left with an empty feeling at the end. So is that the whole point? To give us a slice-of-life sense of how desperate and doomed these people are? I have to say that I felt their pain and their daily dose of depression, but, like them, I wanted more.

“God’s Pocket” is rated R for violence, language throughout and sexual content. Runtime is 89 minutes, but at times it feels longer.

“God’s Pocket” is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, and though it’s an indie script with an indie heart, the production values are as solid as a mainstream release.I saw no problems with the AVC/MPEG-4 transfer, and there was enough grain to satisfy even the most persnickety videophile.

The featured audio is an English DTS-HD MA 5.1, with subtitles in English SDH and Spanish. It’s a dialogue-driven film, though, and so we never really get to experience the full measure of the 5.1 soundtrack.

Co-writer, director, and producer John Slattery provides a full-length commentary and there are a few touching moments, given Hoffman’s untimely death. Besides that there are a handful of deleted scenes and the original trailer and TV spots. That’s it.

Bottom line:
Seymour Hoffman is the reason to watch this film. Given a plot that creeps ever so insistently toward melodrama, he’s a grounding force that seems to keep everyone else from going overboard.