Saturday, June 21, 2014

God's Pocket: A special guest blogger weighs in on the movie starring Philip Seymour Hoffman

This is a very special Saturday for me because my son is writing his first guest post here on my blog. Notice I said first? I'm hoping he'll agree to do it again.  

We saw God's Pocket together not too long ago, the movie starring Phillip Seymour Hoffman in one of his last roles. We both enjoyed it so much that I asked if he'd mind sharing his take on it. I think you'll find it really good reading, smart and thoughtful, and that's my mom bias aside. 

Based on the Pete Dexter novel, the film was directed by John Slattery (Mad Men) who was in the theatre for a post-screening Q&A. Slattery, casual in a green plaid shirt, tails untucked, jeans and black leather jacket, looking like a smarty pants with his nerd-glasses, smacked of Sterling's genial bravado, tossing off answers as if the whole thing was a lark, a term paper turned in at the last moment. But the movie, while comic, is dark and certainly no lark. 

Here's Russell's take on the movie God's Pocket:

God’s Pocket is about the town God’s Pocket and its residents. It’s a window into a certain way of life, a certain kind of community. As the newspaper columnist in the film writes about the people of God’s Pocket, “Whatever they are is what they are…” And defining just what they are will prove problematic.

            Richard Shellburn, played by the magnificent Richard Jenkins, is the writer who has “…been writing the story of this town for 30 years.” He is widely read among the locals, and much admired, at least until he writes what he really thinks about them. He writes that the only thing the locals can’t forgive is “…not being from God’s Pocket.” Which brings us to Mickey, our protagonist, one of the only characters in the movie who is not from God’s Pocket.

            The film sits on the mighty shoulders of the immense talent Philip Seymour Hoffman. His face - sometimes like a crying mask, many times drenched in shadow – bears a stoic bewilderment at the events that occur. His Mickey is exhausted, strapped for cash, and unwanted, scrambling to keep his head above water. His stepson Leon’s death comes the same day he steals a meat truck, bringing police and reporters into his home when he wants to lay low. Mickey meets these and numerous other ironic turns of fate with a resigned determination, a weary refusal to give in. He struggles to give his wife a proper funeral for her son. But Mickey’s battles come not only from without, but within, and he is at times his own worst enemy. The community bar takes a collection for the funeral, and Mickey blows the money on horse racing.

Let’s pause for a moment on the horse racing. Until the big race Mickey has insisted on the ability of a horse named Turning Leaf. Mickey insists that this out of town horse can easily beat the local horses, and is full of confidence when he places his bet. When the horse loses, Mickey’s shadowed face tells us everything. It is not only the  money that Mickey’s lost, it is his pride.

Hoffman’s Mickey is joined by Christina Hendricks as his long suffering wife, Jeanie. Jeanie leaves much unsaid, but Hendricks uses her characters’ silence as an opportunity to communicate through her eyes, speaking volumes with each glance. Richard Jenkins is appropriately smarmy, but he imbues his character with pathos. John Turturro also brings out the humanity of his comic character.

The plot is tight and relentless, giving Mickey no escape, no peace, no home. As the film progresses, Mickey is stripped of everything – his dignity, his allegiance to the town, his wife, his little money, his truck, until, in the film’s violent climax, he walks away.

The people of God’s Pocket are not one thing. They are not “this” or “that,” they are themselves – complex, layered, unique individuals. They are contradictory – caring one minute and unwelcoming the next. Their world is small, chaotic, violent. They have carved out a corner of the earth for themselves, and that corner contains all they want, and everybody they want. Mickey was not born in God’s Pocket, and that won’t change. Thus God’s Pocket is ultimately about Mickey’s search for a home, and for dignity. For Mickey to find these things he might once have had but certainly no longer does, he must first get out of God’s Pocket. 

God's Pocket Trailer 

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