Mad Men star John Slattery directs this bleak black comedy starring Philip Seymour Hoffman
Mad Men star John Slattery makes his directorial feature debut with this bleak black comedy based on the novel by Pete Dexter, author of The Paperboy. Set in the fictional, blue-collar South Philadelphia neighbourhood of God's Pocket, the film stars Philip Seymour Hoffman (in the last but one of his completed screen performances) as Mickey Scarpato, an outsider who's been accepted into the community by virtue of his marriage to the beautiful Jeanie (Slattery's Mad Men co-star Christina Hendricks). When Jeanie's lowlife son Leon (Caleb Landry Jones) is killed at work, she correctly suspects a cover-up, so Mickey asks his shady best friend Arthur (Jon Turturro) to investigate, setting off a chain of shockingly violent events. Meanwhile, sleazy newspaper columnist Richard Shelburn (Richard Jenkins) begins investigating the story and develops an unhealthy interest in Jeanie. At the same time, Mickey tries to raise the money for the funeral by selling stolen meat, but he runs foul of hot-headed undertaker Jack (Eddie Marsan), who refuses to store the body until Mickey ponies up the cash.
Having cut his teeth on five episodes of Mad Men, Slattery's direction is assured – in particular, he conveys a strong sense of place, peopling his backgrounds and bar scenes with convincing-looking characters and achieving an over-arching sense of melancholy, aided by Lance Acord's deliberately dark cinematography. That darkness is reflected in the script, which continually points up the cynical emptiness of Shelburn's career-long romanticisation of the neighbourhood, though Slattery is also careful to include moments of black humour amidst the misery, most notably with two brilliantly executed shock moments.
In addition, Slattery draws terrific performances from his superb cast: Hoffman and Turturro make an appealing best buddies double act, while Hendricks is heart-breaking as the grief-stricken mother and her scenes with Jenkins are quietly devastating.
Selected release from Fri 8 Aug.