Saturday, 9 August 2014

Review of God's Pocket (2014)

Actor John Slattery's directorial debut "God's Pocket" is a mess that never really organises itself according to one principle or another, and how much that bothers you rests solely on your tastes as a filmgoer. I found it visually interesting and well-acted enough that the 88 minute running time went by quite quickly, yet I am also aware that this is a heavily flawed film, in places lazy, and it never rings true enough for the audience to really get their teeth into it. It feels like a rough cut of another, longer, better, more interesting movie. A minor version of a minor classic, perhaps.

The plot takes place over three days in the eponymous Vermont neighbourhood, concerning Mickey Scarpato (Philip Seymour Hoffman) as he tries to sort out his affairs in the wake of his son Leon's (Caleb Landry Jones) death, which is reported to be an accident involving faulty equipment at the construction site he worked at, but was in fact a murder at the hands of a black worker he kept taunting. Leon, as far as we get to know him before he is murdered, is a thoroughly unpleasant young man who takes great relish in displaying his knife and telling graphic stories about cats he's murdered with it.

The fact that Leon is so despicable seems unnoticed by his mother Jeanie (Christina Hendricks), however there are hints that Mickey is aware of it, doesn't resent it, isn't mourning his son but isn't glad he's dead either, and is just trying to get the funeral to go ahead smoothly. Hoffman goes full DeNiro in this picture, utilising a Bronx accent and a moody stance. It's not his most striking or showy role, but it's still nice to see him onscreen since his tragic death. That his character feels unformed is the fault of the script as opposed to his acting; he brings his all here, as was his standard.

This leads into the biggest issue I had with the film; the script, written by Alex Metcalf and Slattery, adapted from a Peter Dexter novel, feels unfinished. Certain aspects, such as the fact that Jeanie intuitively knows that Leon's death was suspicious, reek of lazy unmotivated screenwriting. Richard Jenkins puts in a good performance as an alcoholic columnist who chronicles the lives of everyone in God's Pocket, reports Leon's death, and has time for two fleeting sexual encounters, yet we never feel like we know him. Why is he an alcoholic? Is he lonely? Shouldn't these things be clarified so we can form a connection with the character?

I am not asking to be spoonfed; I love figuring things out for myself, and I love it when filmmakers drop little clues into the film for the audience to chew upon. There are no clues here; much rather, there isn't much here at all. 

What saves the film from being terrible is Lance Acord's dirty, muddy cinematography, which is incredibly evocative of the dead-end lives that these characters are leading. I love a film that has a unique visual style, and a strong sense of place. Acord brings God's Pocket to life, even though he can't bring "God's Pocket" to life, and this plus the acting was enough for me, but I would gladly forgive anyone for whom this wasn't enough.

No comments:

Post a Comment