“I don’t see nothin’ but what I’m lookin’ at.”
This line – or variations thereof – is repeated in John Slattery’s God’s Pocket, as ordinary folk reassure one another that they have no interest in the other’s minor misdeeds. It’s also a reasonable description of my reaction to the film; it’s not bad, but it lacks depth, with any sense of substantial interiority for the characters failing to cohere until the final minutes.
Which is a shame; despite a slack narrative, God’s Pocket is an effective portrait of a place – a rough Philly neighbourhood, portrayed with a pallid, urinary aesthetic that captures the grimy smallness of the place. The cast, which includes the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, Richard Jenkins and Slattery’s Mad Men co-star Christina Hendricks, capably convey the weight of resignation that bears down on the people of God’s Pocket. There are flashes of brilliance, moments of deadpan black comedy amidst absurdist violence (there are clunkers, too, like the awkward cross-cutting between a sex scene and a car chase).
But a portrait of a place is nothing without a real sense of the people within it, and that’s largely denied by the film’s stifling atmosphere and mean-spirited attitude towards its inhabitants.