God’s Pocket is based on a novel of the same name written by Peter Dexter and published in 1983. “God’s Pocket” is the sobriquet given to a fictional blue collar town outside of Philadelphia, most of whose citizens never got past the tenth grade. It is said that everyone there has stolen something from somebody else, or they set someone’s house on fire when they were kids. The town is home to hard drinkers, gambling addicts, and hard workers whose wives do not know enough to expect anything more. The only thing the citizens cannot forgive is that someone is not from God’s Pocket.
Philip Seymour Hoffman Wikimedia
One of those outsiders is Mickey Scarpato (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who married a widow from God’s Pocket named Jeanie (Christina Hendricks). Jeanie has a son Leon (Caleb Landry Jones) in his early twenties who holds down a construction job he doesn’t like, and tends to insult the one black man on the crew.
Leon went too far one day and used a knife to draw blood on the black man’s neck. When Leon turned his back, the black man took up a heavy tool and whacked Leon on the back of his head, killing him. When the police arrived on the scene, the entire crew told the same story. The shackle on a lift came loose and the chain swung out and hit Leon in the back of the head. The police accepted their story and called Jeanie Scarpato to tell her that her son was killed in an accident at work.
Mickey Makes the Funeral Arrangements
Mickey Scarpato is in a lot of debt, but of course it is up to him to make arrangements for the burial of his stepson. He paid a visit to the town’s funeral director, Smilin’ Jack Moran (Eddie Marsan) to see if Jack would take care of the funeral and Mickey would pay him the $6000 cost later when he had some money coming to him. Jack was not happy with the arrangement, but agreed to do it.
Mickey’s good friend Arthur ‘Bird’ Capezio (John Turturro) owes Mickey $700 and knows about a horse named Turning Leaf who will probably come in first in his next race. He says it’s a sure thing.
Meanwhile, Mickey’s wife Jeanie does not believe the story about how her son died. She sensed that something else happened to him and that it was not an accident.
John Turturro - Wikimedia
Local Newspaper Looks Into Leon’s Death
A local columnist for the Daily Times, Richard Shelburn (Richard Jenkins), has been asked by his editor to look into Leon’s death. Richard has a drinking problem and has taken too many day off. His output for the newspaper has slowed down quite a bit. To keep his job, Richard agrees to come up with a story about this latest town tragedy. He made an appointment to talk to Jeanie. Richard listened to Jeanie’s story, but was distracted by her beauty and could not help complimenting her. He told her about some property he owned out in the country and asked her to take a ride out to see it. Of course, he brought along a bottle of wine and made some romantic overtures to Jeanie which she did not resist. Richard was an outsider in God’s Pocket, and cared little about the opinion of the townspeople.
Mickey Tries to Pay Off His Debt
Meanwhile, Mickey, who owns a business called Scarpato Beef and Lamb is anxious to sell some halves of beef which would bring in a lot of money to aid in the funeral expenses. When the electricity went off in the plant, he was forced to transfer the halves of beef to his refrigerated truck to salvage the meat.
Mickey made another visit to Smilin’ Jack who pressured him about the debt that Mickey promised to pay him. He got a bit nasty, but apologized and they both sat and had a beer in front of a dead woman in a casket in the funeral home. When Mickey left, it was pouring rain out and Jack asked him to use the back door since he had already locked the front door. Mickey tripped over a board in the back alley and was shocked to see Leon’s body lying in the alley, getting soaked from the pouring rain. He put Leon’s body in his refrigerated truck to preserve him until the funeral.
Funeral Casket - Wikimedia
‘Bird’s’ Wife Kills the Gangsters
Mickey’s friend ‘Bird’ was in trouble with some gangsters who demanded payment of his debt. Two men came to ‘Bird’s’ wife’s Flower Shop looking for ‘Bird.’ His wife Sophie shot the two men and called the police, saying that two men tried to rob her Flower Shop. That was the end of that. This is God’s Pocket, remember.
Mickey Sells His Refrigerated Truck
Mickey decided that his only way out of debt was to sell his refrigerated truck. He brought it to a dealer who said he would pay him $5500 for the truck. Mickey insisted that the dealer not look inside the truck since he had some items there which were personal. The dealer agreed. Without telling Mickey, however, he had one of his salesmen take the truck out for a trial run. When Mickey heard this, he ran after the truck for several blocks, and never got close. The truck up ahead was in a terrible accident and all of the belongings inside, including the halves of beef and Leon’s body, were strewn about the street. Mickey insisted to the dealer that he had already bought the car and demanded payment from him. The dealer reluctantly gave Mickey $6000 for the heavily damaged truck.
Richard Shelburn Gets a Scoop for His Column
Richard Shelburn wrote in his column for the Daily Times that Leon had died twice. He also characterized the townspeople as ignorant and dirty-faced. Jeanie was distraught at all that had happened and that Richard had told the entire town that story. The funeral, however, was tastefully done, and Jeanie was happy, particularly because Mickey was able to pay his debt to Smilin’ Jack.
Christina Hendricks Wikimedia
Richard Visits the Neighborhood Tavern
After the funeral, Mickey stopped in at the neighborhood tavern that he frequented just about every night. One of the patrons mentioned to him that Richard Shelburn was openly romancing Mickey’s wife Jeanie. Mickey denied it. Shortly thereafter, Richard walked into the tavern. The bartender politely told Richard that for his own sake, he should better leave. Richard did not take the hint. A few patrons ganged up on him, brought him outside, and beat him up. Remember, he was an outsider to God’s Pocket.
The last scenes of the film showed Mickey as a guest of ‘Bird’ and Sophie in their trailer court yard, seemingly living there now.
An Enjoyable Film
The film did not get good reviews. However, I enjoyed every minute of it. It was definitely a subtle spoof of an otherwise sad story, and brought more smiles than tears.
The saddest note is that it was one of the last films in which Philip Seymour Hoffman starred before his untimely death. He did a masterful job, however, along with his A-list cast, particularly John Turturro, who never lets down an audience.