Former Philadelphia journalist Peter Dexter also seems to know what it’s like and here his novel is adapted by Alex Metcalf and Mad Men’s John Slattery, who also directs an impressive cast here, not least one of the last performances from Seymour Hoffman as Mickey, husband to Jeanie (Hendricks), overweight and punching above it when it comes to his wife, which begs the question of casting to some extent. The inclusion of Richard Jenkins as the journalist with the pulse of the town at his fingertips is possibly a hint at the kind of life Jeanie should be living and whilst his performance is welcome and rounded, you may well ask why there is a need for this character at all, aside from to highlight the town, its inhabitants and the well of community spirit that exists amongst them.
When Jeanie’s son (and Mickey’s stepson) is killed at work, few of the townspeople of God’s Pocket have a bad word to say about him openly, though it is quite clear that this young man was not exactly universally adored. The truth of the matter is that he overstepped the bounds of decency and paid the price, but his co-workers remain tight-lipped about what really happened that day. Jeanie believes there was more to the accident than the rest of the witnesses are letting on and so Mickey is put in the position of finding out the truth, which ends up being a little more difficult to get at than at first anticipated.
This small community where literally everybody seems to know everybody else is the kind of place that flocks together in times of need and whilst they rally to help this grieving family, the disquiet and uncomfortable silences say much more than the tongues that refuse to wag.
Seymour Hoffman’s performance as Mickey is exemplary, purporting to make you forget every role he has played before this one, gruffly and effortlessly delivering a small town approach to a man with enough street smarts to survive, but little motivation to better the position for himself or those he cares for. His work here is, to be brutal, head and shoulders above most of the assembled cast. Mickey struggles to make ends meet and his meat business, carried out from the back of a refrigerated van, is always on the edge of legal and sometimes completely on the wrong side of it.
When Mickey is left to arrange his stepson’s funeral, he needs to visit the local undertaker, ironically monickered ‘Smilin’ Jack’ (Eddie Marsan), who tells him that it’s going to cost more than Mickey has in the world to bury his stepson, even with the goodwill collection fund at the local bar and the money he’s owed for his last delivery to Arthur (John Turturro), the buyer for most of his meat produce.
A gritty drama, God’s Pocket is held together by a great central performance from the late Seymour Hoffman, ably supported by Hendricks and Turturro most notably, though Eddie Marsan’s Jack is brilliantly cold and riddled with a lack of understanding for his customers needs. The film is not a classic and often fails to engage in scenes that sometimes feel superfluous or even pointless. The tone is harsh, as you would expect, from a mostly needy, impoverished set of characters that live from hand to mouth and are prepared to do anything for a good meal. A film really for fans of Seymour Hoffman who owns his own role and most of the film itself.