I’ve been wanting to write a love letter to Phillip Seymour Hoffman for a long time now. His death struck me in unexpected ways. I’m not the type who gets too upset about the tragic alcoholic deaths of movie stars I don’t know, but I am the type who sees a lot of devastation at the hands of alcoholism and addiction in real life. Usually, I’m too concerned with what’s going on in my world to worry overmuch about what’s happening to people in Hollywood. But his death struck me for some reason. And not just because brilliant, beautiful, talented, funny men who are in copious amounts of pain can be filed in the “right up my alley” category. I thought seeing his last dramatic effort would be kind of a tribute. I thought witnessing his particular brand of genius for a couple hours would help me pay homage, even if the movie was depressing. Most of the time all it did was make me sad. In so many ways.
God’s Pocket purports to be about the “accidental” death of Leon Hubbard (Caleb Landry Jones), the abhorrently racist psychopath son of Jeannie (Christina Hendricks) and stepson of Mickey (Hoffman). When this kid dies, we’re all relieved, and that part of the storyline quickly becomes tertiary, at best. It becomes a character study, wrapped inside a gruesome 1970s gangster film. We follow Mickey, with Hoffman large in our periphery, as he struggles with his life in God’s Pocket. He tries to figure out what happened to his stepson, he tries to appease his grieving wife, he tries to solve his substantial money problems, he tries to stay out of the bar, mostly to no avail.
The standout, for me, was Christine Hendricks. Her rendering of this woman – so sexualized, so trapped, so resigned to abuse by the men in her life –was stellar. And the costume designer, Donna Zakowska, was so keyed in to the purpose of this character, I felt guilty whenever Hendricks was on screen. Even I couldn’t help but stare at her rack, which must have been held so high aloft by a very complicated rope and pulley system.
God’s Pocket is the kind of dirty you just can’t get out of. Its portrayal of a grimy, blue-collar, loyalty-regardless-of-corruption kind of town was so convincing, I was at times consumed with thoughts of the characters just getting a shower. The drinking was so excessive, the alcoholism so rampant, my liver hurt after an hour and a half. I was so steeped in the darkness of this movie that it was hard to breathe until the very end – the last three minutes – which were a lovely, shining, hopeful nugget in the sea of desolation that is God’s Pocket.
Not the love letter I had intended. I can imagine it might have been very hard for an actor, with skin thinner than most, to be inside of this darkness without paying some kind of price. My heart wanted our last memory of him to be more hopeful, more exalting. I guess this is going to have to do.
By Gaaby Patterson