'God's Pocket' a gray, haunting role

| Thursday, May 15, 2014, 8:55 p.m.

God's Pocket is the kind of neighborhood where everyone knows everyone else's business and residents go by names such as Smilin' Jack and Old Lucy, where the only way to get rich is to bet on horses and the sole way to settle an argument is with fists. In his feature directorial debut, John Slattery brings the working-class South Philly neighborhood vividly — or grayly, really — to life.

The late Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Mickey, a man with problems. His stepson has just died, and the boy's mother, Jeanie (Christina Hendricks), tasks Mickey with finding out what really happened. In truth, Leon was murdered while working his factory job, and the little sociopath had it coming. His co-workers aren't willing to talk to the police, except for one, and he has a prohibitive stutter. So, the official word is that Leon's death was an on-the-job accident.

This leads to another conundrum: Mickey can't pay for the pricey mahogany casket Jeanie wants, much less the funeral. He needs to be repaid by his friend and partner-in-crime (literally), Arthur (John Turturro), but Arthur already owes thousands to an extremely scary mobster played by Domenick Lombardozzi.

One problem leads to another, and pretty soon, there's an avalanche of car crashes and gunshots, eye-gouging and even a runaway corpse.

The trappings add to a feeling that God's Pocket is a place that time forgot. Even the local newspaper columnist (played by Richard Jenkins) merely writes the same op-ed again and again, filling his free time with booze and women.

The movie's earliest scenes feel somber, as if a tragic ending is inevitable. But then, somewhere around the mid-point, the tone pivots into more of a dark comedy. W

hat began as an intriguing snapshot begins to feel grotesque and inscrutable.

But, through it all, Hoffman shines as Mickey, a guy who can't quite get anything right. While the bouts of comedy make a calamitous finale feel less imminent, the tragedy remains: Even in a flawed movie, Hoffman is beyond reproach, and our opportunities to see his work are numbered.

Stephanie Merry is a staff writer for The Washington Post.

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