God’s Pocket & Ida

God’s Pocket
It would be nice to report that God’s Pocket, the first film starring Philip Seymour Hoffman to be released after his tragic death, is a masterpiece. It’s not. But it is lively entertainment that highlights Hoffman’s stunning ability to find depth and humanity in characters whom others might dismiss as losers.

God’s Pocket is a gritty, working-class neighborhood where the only career options are a dead-end job, a life of crime or some combination of the two. It’s a tight-knit place where the worst thing you can say about someone is that they’re not from God’s Pocket. Mickey (Hoffman) is one of those suspicious outsiders. However, his marriage to Jeannie (Christina Hendricks, Mad Men, Drive), the most beautiful woman in God’s Pocket, has made him almost accepted by the locals.

Mickey scratches out a living driving a truck and helping the mob arrange an occasional hijacking. His comfortingly predictable life spins out of control when Jeannie’s brother Leon gets killed. Although Leon was a racist, animal-torturing scumbag, Jeannie always believed him to be an angel, and she pushes Mickey to uncover the truth about his death. Between asking uncomfortable questions, paying for Leon’s funeral and dealing with a corpse that won’t stay put, Mickey finds himself caught in a whirlwind of events that may endanger his tenuous place in God’s Pocket.

Filmmaker John Slattery (Mad Men) struggles to capture the twangy charm of Pete Dexter’s novel but is often bailed out by a fantastic cast including John Turturro as a butcher with mob connections, Hendricks as the sensuous but grumpy Jeannie, Richard Jenkins as a newspaper columnist whose escape from God’s Pocket is sabotaged by his own erotic compulsions and of course, the late, great Hoffman, whose brilliance in this movie coaxes us into laughter even at a moment when so many are hurting from the pain of his untimely loss.

Many movies are set in the past, but acclaimed filmmaker Pawel Pawlikowski (My Summer of Love) goes beyond the usual period details in his brilliant new movie Ida. Instead of mimicking the past, he’s created a film that actually seems like it was made in 1960s Poland. From the stark imagery to the probing exploration of the lies that corroded post-war Polish society, Ida feels like a rediscovered masterpiece from that country’s golden age of filmmaking when legends like Andrzej Wajda and Wojciech Has stunned international audiences with their tour de forces Ashes and Diamonds and The Saragossa Manuscript.

Anna (stunning newcomer Agata Trzebuchowska) is a young novitiate who is about to become a nun. The mother superior at her convent insists that before taking her final vows Anna must visit her only relative. Aunt Wanda (Agata Kulesza) is a former communist prosecutor who has been forced out of power in a Communist party purge. Wanda immediately stuns Anna by revealing that everything she has been told about her past is a lie. Anna is actually Jewish and was born Ida Lebenstein. Although the cynical, alcoholic prosecutor and the novitiate couldn’t be more different, they form a bond on a road trip to visit the family home and uncover the true fate of Anna’s parents. Pawlikowski has created a haunting work that powerfully explores how the corruption of the present is rooted in the dark secrets of the past.

dylan skolnick

Dylan Skolnick lives in the East, but loves a good western. He can be found most days and many evenings at the Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington, where he is co-director (www.cinemaartscentre.org).