Philip Seymour Hoffman rests in peace, which is more than can be said for the dead body he finds himself lumbered with in John Slattery’s (aka Mad Men’s Roger) directorial debut. Unable to afford an undertaker for his stepson’s cadaver, Hoffman’s South Philly sadsack winds up carting the stiff around in a stolen meat truck – just one of several indignities that the late Leon Hubbard (Caleb Landry Jones) suffers in a blackly comedic look at working class folk that plays like a downbeat Weekend At Bernie’s.
Hoffman was always a dab hand at playing put-upon losers, so his role here can’t have tested him unduly. As ever, though, the actor affectingly projects a weary and embattled pathos, not least when dealing with grieving wife Jeanie (Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks).
While he’s off trying to rustle up enough greenbacks to placate Eddie Marsan’s testy funeral director, she seeks comfort with a newspaper columnist (Richard Jenkins) who believes it’s his calling to poetically chronicle life as it’s lived in her gritty God’s Pocket neighbourhood.
Meanwhile, Hoffman’s lowlife buddy (John Turturro) finds himself stalked by a pair of pistol-packing hoodlums, leading to one of the sporadic bouts of violence that are as much a part of this ’70s landscape as urban blight and dodgy fashions.
Based on an early novel by Pete Dexter (The Paperboy), Slattery’s flick depicts its close-knit, blue-collar community with economy and insight. Yet there isn’t much of a story here – more an elaborate anecdote you could imagine being recounted in one of the drinking dens to which Hoffman’s Mickey retreats.
This is not, in short, the towering testament to its late star that one might have hoped for. Yet it is a reminder of what he could bring to even middling material – the ability to turn the most pathetic, schlubby weakling into a perfect miniature of the human condition.
The first Philip Seymour Hoffman film to be released since his death holds few surprises for anyone familiar with his back catalogue. Perhaps inevitably, though, he’s the best thing in it.