Imagine a version of Rocky filled with alcoholic South Philly losers and sides of beef hanging in meat lockers—yet no boxing whatsoever—and you’ll get the gist of this depressing ’70s-set drama. Based on Pete Dexter’s 1983 novel (and wearing its bleakness like a badge), the movie is beautifully cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Mickey Scarpato, a slump of a nothing whom the actor somehow makes magnetic. After his wife’s adult son is murdered at a construction site for mouthing off, Mickey is suddenly thrust into the role of making things right: arranging the burial with a slimy funeral director (Eddie Marsan); and collecting a debt from a two-bit partner in crime, Bird (John Turturro). He also wastes money on a horse race and drinks himself senseless.
The material isn’t excited or shaped toward any insight—the Mike Leigh of Naked did this sort of thing brilliantly—and the arrival of a sluggish investigating journalist (Richard Jenkins), himself a bar fixture and underachiever, doesn’t offer a valid counterpoint. Yet the booze-saturated mood is absorbingly strange; you only wish debuting feature director John Slattery had brought some of the spark he’s shown on Mad Men, even when deep in his cups.
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