“There are more hidden spaces in a city, more hidden lives and hidden emptinesses, and more darkened windows where shadow people pass fleetingly in and out of sight.”

― Kate Milford

 

 

No matter how rich and famous the urban jungles get, there is always, deep down past the skyscrapers, the tinted glass, neon and fabulous restaurants, past the glamour and gloss, a dark pocket hidden away, where lost souls and broken hearts cling to one another and spend their waking hours just surviving. Here, in director John Slattery’s dark and throbbing film, it’s called “God’s Pocket.”

“God’s Pocket” is one of those neighborhoods where dreams go to die, but the dreamers are condemned to live on, watching the corpses of their dreams rot before their eyes. This is the Hell the church books don’t tell you about.

On this particular day, we find ourselves in a seedy construction site, a patch of dirt right out of Gorky’s “The Lower Depths,” run by a brutal giant (Glenn Fleshler, the serial killer in “True Detective.”) Where one of the workers, a boozed-up semi-demented kid, (Caleb Landry Jones) holds a box cutter to the throat of an elderly black worker. Someone takes a pipe to the kid’s head, and our story begins.

The incident is passed off as an accident, but his mother Jeanie, a sad, blown-out housewife … (Christina Hendricks, Joan from “Mad Men”) doesn’t buy it. When Richard Shellburn, a well-known city columnist and alcoholic womanizer (Richard Jenkins) is sent down to hear her story, he gets a whiff of the long suppressed heat Jeanie gives off, and reluctantly agrees to pursue the facts and Jeanie.

Meanwhile, the boy’s body is on ice in undertaker Smilin’ Jack’s shabby funeral parlor, and someone needs to come up with the cash, or the body will be put out on the street, literally. So a jar is put out on the bar of the Hollywood tavern, and $14,000 bucks is collected.

This is when we meet Jeanie’s husband, Mickey the butcher (the late great Philip Seymour Hoffman), a bloated and broken piece of humanity who has been down, as they say, so long, it has gotten to look like up. Mickey isn’t from the pocket, and no one misses a chance to remind him. Mickey really has only one friend, Sal the florist. Sal and Mickey like to the play the horses, hoping maybe to move up to a cleaner rung on the dirty ladder out of the ’hood.

When they lose the casket money, they join up with a small-time gangster to hijack a truck full of meat.

Meanwhile, Smilin’ Jack (a wonderful Eddie Marsan) wants cash and makes his own plans for the corpse.

Now “God’s Pocket” veers into a black comedy of errors with bizarre and sometimes hilarious results. There will be the funeral, the iced meat truck that holds other surprises, an accident on a crowded boulevard.

John Turturro is once again a standout, but he has real competition from the incredible crowd of small parts who indwell the neighborhood’s “Hollywood Tavern.”

Peter Dexter, who wrote the novel, has a knack, like Albany’s William Kennedy,who wrote the classic “Ironweed,” for creating characters so real we can smell the beer on their breaths and the urine on their stained pants. Bravo to casting genius Susan Shopmaker for finding them.

Perhaps “God’s Pocket” is not the masterpiece Slattery hoped for but in today’s movies, where superheroes fly, buildings explode and worlds end, to present real humans in a real world that is so mad, so doomed that even super heroes are impotent, it is at the very least a valiant effort.

Director John Slattery (Roger Sterling in “Mad Men”) works from the novel by Peter Dexter (“Mulholland Falls”) and screenplay by Alex Metcalf.

Lance Acord’s camera darts in and out of the action, from bedroom to bar, like a stray dog who misses nothing. Nathan Larson’s 80’s music is perfect. Slattery is on to something that might be his calling.

 

J.P. Devine is a stage and screen actor.