It’s hard to think of any compelling reasons to see “God’s Pocket,” a messy, shallow, muddled morass of a Philadelphia crime story set in 1978 — except perhaps to check out its lovingly shot portraits of South Philly’s wonderfully gritty streets, its familiar storefronts and its parade of identical rowhouses.
But actor John Slattery’s directorial debut disappoints even here: It was shot for the most part in Yonkers, N.Y.
Slattery told an interviewer at Sundance in January that South Philly today looks far too nice to work as the film’s setting.
Hmph. (But thanks for the compliment.)
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Adapted by Slattery and screenwriter Alex Metcalf from former Daily News columnist Pete Dexter’s first novel (same title, 1983), “God’s Pocket” has all the ingredients for a good film. Dexter’s source material is terrific, as is the cast: The late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman leads an ensemble that includes Richard Jenkins, John Turturro and Slattery’s “Mad Men” costar Christina Hendricks.
Their talents are, for the most part, wasted.
Hoffman and Hendricks play Mickey and Jeannie Scarpato, salt-of-the-earth working-class Fluffyans whose son, tough-guy braggart Leon, is killed in a face-off with a coworker at the factory.
But Leon’s cohorts, their boss, and the cops are content to bury the truth and rule the death a workplace accident.
Everyone moves on from the tragedy except Leon’s parents. Mickey, who makes ends meet with the occasional theft, is tortured by his inability to pay for his son’s funeral. For her part, Jeannie believes Leon was murdered and entreats newspaper columnist Richard Shellburn (Jenkins) to look into the case.
“God’s Pocket” pretty much covers most of the territory set out in Dexter’s novel, but while it has some fine performances, it lacks any of the novel’s conviction or its bite. Its tone is muddled, its characters thinly drawn.
Worse, the film revels in misty-eyed nostalgia for its blue-collar characters and their community, while at the same time displaying a cold condescension that’s hard to stomach.