Where God Left His Shoes, directed by Salvatore Stabile, a realistic portrayal of a down on his luck Gulf War Vet who attempts to integrate himself back into a society that has no place for him.
Where God Left His Shoes opens with Frank Diaz, embodied by John Leguizamo, at the dingy low-income gym in training as a ticket boxer. Think Rocky Balboa. Now that you have the picture, the next few scenes are predictable. The owner of the gym stops the practice and explains that he has been pulled from the Garden fight, meaning Madison Square Garden. At this point, the camera slow pans Diaz as he cleans out his locker and pausing on important profiling information. The camera shots rest on his military jacket with name, battle and military op.
This is where the similarities to Rocky end. Diaz is a Gulf War vet of Desert Storm. He made it home from the grotesqueness of a war the American public has never grasped, to fight the war that is waged domestically. Poverty, unemployment, and the failure to acknowledge wartime service leaves him struggling to find suitable employment, earn a decent living wage, secure affordable housing, and provide the basic needs of his family.
The next scene Diaz is explaining the financial implications of losing the place on the line-up and with it the finances to his wife, Angela, played by international film star, Leonor Varela. The situation deteriorates as the family sits at the dinner table and the electricity goes off. Two months later, even greater implications of this one financial setback, the NY housing authority evicts the family and they are given two hours to pack the personal belongings that they can carry and leave. They lose everything left behind.
The film progresses over three-months from Halloween to Christmas Eve as the family goes from bad to worse financially. The backdrop is gritty Manhattan: poverty stricken, seedy, and perverted, and no place for holiday hope: The Manhattan that is for so many. Manhattan, which can be at its most beautiful during the holiday season, becomes the second Manhattan that is almost never seen in films and is certainly not a tourist attraction.
Diaz, is left to his own resources to integrate himself into a society that has no place for post war vets. The story is filled with all the issues presented as valid arguments for an integration system that allows and mandates Post War Vets to be counseled and treated for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, employment resources and other services.
After eviction, the family moves into a homeless shelter. This experience is portrayed with enough accuracy to draw the necessary conclusions one would believe of a homeless shelter experience. Although one would expect children and females to be separated from the general male population for the very reasons shown in the film, here they are not clearly to underscore the depravity and violence that feeds in the underbelly. The family is housed, fed, receives medical attention and is given the opportunity for low-income housing.
This essentially begins the second act of the film. On Christmas Eve, the shelter worker explains that housing has become available and it is theirs with one caveat: Diaz must find a job, on the books, by 6:00PM that evening. The housing is low-income and as Diaz states, “It ain’t where God left his shoes but . . . ” The implications are clear. This begins a day of possibility and hope. With the money to cover the rent it seems like a sealed deal. Then the reality of the situation begins to unfold as the worker sorts through the paperwork with Diaz.
Diaz swallows his pride and returns to the only people who can assist him in navigating the system: The owner of an Italian construction company who pays off the books for cheap day labor. This is an interesting confrontational scene between a generation raised on It’s A Wonderful Life and one raised on MTV. The father who built the business believed that helping a man could make a difference and the son believed that ruling the man made the difference. It is an interesting scene from an analytical Post War viewpoint.
Diaz and his son, Justin, played by David Castro, hit the streets of Manhattan looking for employment. The film broadcasts the next scene when the Diaz men jump the Subway turn styles. The audience is waiting for them to get caught. The entire day they are traveling borough-to-borough, jumping turn styles, and eventually are caught, chased, ordered to stop, and run, finally making it to the subway before the train doors shut. In this chase the son falls and is injured. It is a small Christmas Miracle.
The day together brings out all the underlying issues that the son has been holding back. He is hungry, angry, lonely and tired. They should have halted and spent a dollar and bought a Hot Dog and instead we see John Leguizamo digging through a garbage dumpster looking for food for his son. It was gratuitous in its depiction of poverty and need.
There are lighthearted moments in the film that could make even the most jaded laugh. Child actor Samantha Rose steals the family scene at the dinner table when the Con Ed get cut off and to ward off the evil of darkness the family begins to play a game. It is a very cute and a real moment.
There are some authenticity issues surrounding the weather that are present. The inclement weather throughout the film acts as an obstacle and is intended to create an anxiety building moment. The actors are quick to verbalize how cold it is and yet one could not see their breath escaping as they walked on the street. There was a downpour, in the very cold, with no evidence of ice or other slushy mixture of snowy mess that usually hits New York about that time of year. The only thing missing from the weather obstacle was a Nor’easter, there was a drenching monsoon rain and within six hours, and this is possible, it was snowing quite heavily.
Where God Left His Shoes is not It’s A Wonderful Life. Clarence does not show up with a yuletide gathering to present the Christmas miracle. It is a real glimpse at the gritty world of reality for Vets returning to a country that cannot distinguish support for the troops and support for policy. It does not have a happy-ending or even a conclusion, at least one that the audience is invited to witness.
The audience is left to create his or her own hopeful ending. The film does leave the viewer with all the elements present for the possibility that this family will get their break . . . sometime. It doesn’t end with a holiday miracle but with holiday hope and a family, still intact, clinging to each other for life, defending each other, hoping in each other, loving each other.
Where God Left his Shoes is available on DVD.