Friday, May 9, 2014

John Slattery's directorial debut, GOD'S POCKET, is strange, wise, dark, crazy, funny and original

How often, when watching a movie in which the bad guys are about to wreak havoc on the good ones and this seems unavoidable, have you found yourself wishing against all hope that the good guys could do something, anything, please!? After the fact, when that damage has been done (this is usually a set-up for revenge -- sometimes it's the set-up for the entire movie that follows), things go on, as usual. But how often, following that first moment of threat, does somthing good and just and necessary actually occur? Right: You can count 'em on the fingers of one finger. Well, prepare yourself, folk, because this kind of jolting joy happens not once but twice in GOD'S POCKET, the new and quite unusual movie directed by and co-adapted (with Alex Metcalf, from the Pete Dexter novel) by John Slattery. And it happens in a manner that, though surprising, you can actually believe.

If this were all that Mr. Slattery's film offered (the director is pictured at left), I would still be inclined to give it a pass. But there's so much more in this exceedingly dark, moody, bleak, black-comedic movie that it earns mostly high marks all-round. Evidently based on a terrible and life-changing event in the life of Mr. Dexter that ended one man's career and started another's new one, the movie is by turns resolutely grim and bleakly funny. It involves a death that happens to one of the most agravating and unpleasant characters you're likely to have encountered on-screen of late, and as which Caleb Landry Jones is memorable indeed.

What evolves from this death is by turns wacky and awful, unreasonable and understandable -- given us human's beings propensity for self-delusion. It also turns the movie into a joy/horror-ride of major proportions. As you might expect from a smart Hollywood semi-insider like Slattery (whose indelible mark has been made on our consciousnesses via his work in Mad Men, the consistently finest piece of dramatic American television yet to air), he and his casting director, Susan Shopmaker, have done a yeoman job of collecting and then bringing to fruition a fabulous cast of some of independent film's finest actors.

In the lead is a man we'll be missing mightily until those of us who remember him are also dead: Philip Seynour Hoffman, above, who turns in yet another outstanding -- living, breathing, huffing and puffing -- performance. As his wife, Christina Hendricks (below) adds another feather in her growing cap of odd movie roles, as does Richard Jenkins (two photos below), as the newspaper reporter whose work sets off the final fire storm (and evidently recalls author Dexter's own story). Also on board is John Turturro (bottom, left) as a pleasantly criminal type (compare his work here with that of Fading Gigolo to better appreciate this guy's versatility).

Standout support is provided by the likes of Eddie Marsan and Joyce Van Patten, among many others. Finally, it's the tone of the tale -- it keeps moving back and forth from comic dark to just-plain-black -- that makes God's Pocket (the name of the little community in which our story takes place) such an unusual film. I have deliberately left out much mention of plot because you deserve to experience first-hand the surprises the movie has in store.

While we can and do appreciate many of these characters as oddball individuals, we can also understand the gut feeling we're left with at the film's conclusion, when the "general public," as it were, has run amok. The movie leaves you with the strong sense that "we, the people" are the last ones to be trusted to do the right thing.

God's Pocket is an original that's as black as they come and almost as quietly funny. Filmmaker Slattery and his cast deliver the goods to the point that I can safely predict: Like it or not, you won't forget this movie.
The film opens today, Friday, May 9, in New York City at the IFC Center, and in Los Angeles at The Landmark. Elsewhere? Don't know, but by next Wednesday, May 14, it'll be available nationwide via VOD.

Note: Mr. Slattery will appear in person on Saturday, 
May 10, for a Q&A after the 7:45pm show, and on 
Sunday, May 11, for a Q&A after the 3:15pm show.

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