With God’s Pocket, Mad Men’s John Slattery makes his directorial debut by adapting Pete Dexter’s 1983 novel about a working-class community whose collars aren’t the only things that are blue. Mickey (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is an outsider, a nonlocal who married Jeanie (Christina Hendricks) and is helping raise their loutish, off-putting son (Caleb Landry Jones). Richard Jenkins plays a newspaper columnist whose alcoholism is spiraling out of control and threatening his career. John Turturro plays Mickey’s friend, who occasionally helps him boost meat trucks then spends his illegal earnings by betting at the racetrack.
Everyone in God’s Pocket, the ironic name of the neighborhood, is mopey and miserable, but they’ve learned to adapt and resigned themselves to modest lives of quiet boredom. Slattery accentuates the inner state of his protagonists by shooting the film in drab, muted hues (the cinematographer is the gifted Lance Acord, who also photographed Adaptation and Lost in Translation) and a lethargic pace that mirrors the mood of his protagonists a little too well. Early in the film comes a death, then later a macabre twist, but the picture doesn’t do anything with either, folding them into its all-consuming tone of blah.
In his novels (including Paris Trout and Brotherly Love), Dexter gets deep inside the heads of his everyman characters, so when they’re thrust into extraordinary circumstances, you share their panic and anxiety. But Slattery keeps everything at a low simmer, rendering the performances by the late Hoffman, the vibrant Hendricks and even the ever-reliable Jenkins into mumbles and sighs of despair (when someone says “It’s a cold world,” you wince at the on-the-nose nature of the line; it’s belabored and unnecessary).
For all its unintentionally comical excesses, one thing you could never say about Lee Daniels’ adaptation of Dexter’s The Paperboy is that the movie was boring. God’s Pocket goes too far in the other direction: In an attempt for restrained, matured respectability, the picture makes even murder seem dull.
Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Christina Hendricks, John Turturro, Richard Jenkins, Caleb Landry Jones.
Director: John Slattery.
Screenwriters: Alex Metcalf, John Slattery. Based on the novel by Pete Dexter.
An IFC Films release. Running time: 88 minutes. Vulgar language, violence, sexual situations, adult themes. Opens Friday May 16 in Miami-Dade: Cosford Cinema, O Cinema Wynwood.