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, a slump of a nothing whom the actor makes magnetic. After his wife’s adult son is murdered at a construction site for mouthing off, Mickey is 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 gambles and drinks himself senseless.
The story lacks excitement and insight, and the arrival of a sluggish journalist (Richard Jenkins), himself a bar fixture and underachiever, doesn’t improve matters. Yet the booze-soaked mood is absorbingly strange; you only wish debut feature director John Slattery had brought to the film some of the spark he’s shown as an actor on ‘Mad Men’.