The Action Mutant…
puts this film’s alcohol level at 5 xs over the legal limit.
State of Grace
review by Joe Burrows
It seems 1990 was the unofficial year of the “gangster” film. Of course, people will most likely remember two things from that year: the amazing emergence of Scorsese’s Goodfellas and the amazing debacle that became Coppola’s The Godfather Part III. There was enough style and grandeur from both films to overshadow the fact that there were two other films worthy of adoration. And they both happened to feature a respected yet slightly known character actor named John Turturro. One was the offbeat, highly inventive Coen Brothers film Miller’s Crossing, which did decently, given its competition. The other, State of Grace, barely made a blip at the box office and was ultimately forgotten. Hopefully, that fate is only penultimate for what was one of the forgotten gems of the decade.
The Plot, as it was:
Sean Penn stars as Terry Noonan, a neighborhood boy from New York’s Hell’s Kitchen who returns home after a decade away. He meets up with boyhood friend Jackie Flannery (Gary Oldman) and finds out he’s working with his brother Frankie (Ed Harris), who heads up the Irish Mob in the area. Terry also tries to rekindle an old flame with Frankie’s sister, Kathleen (Robin Wright) while moving in closer to the Mob’s company. However, Frankie starts paling up with mob kingpin Borelli (Joe Viterelli) so he can gain higher standing in the neighborhood and is willing to get rid of anyone that stands in his way. When Jackie’s friend Stevie (John C. Reilly) turns up dead in the river, Terry’s suspicions start to flare. Think Terry will have anything to say about it? And, oh yeah…where was Terry those ten years?
Don’t shoot me…I’m only the reviewer!:
The story may be as old as cinema itself but that does not derive from the sheer dramatic pleasure of State of Grace. The fact that it’s sharply written is enough to suck you in but the real treat comes in the performances of the name cast. Penn gives it his all with his performance, even though he actually has the least to work with. He basically runs the gamut of emotions and doesn’t have the juicy dialogue that the other characters have (sans his speech that incorporates the film’s title, which is probably his best moment). However, his expression of inner demons works well, as it is aided by an appropriately somber score by Ennio Morricone. Once again, Oldman adds to his list of totally diverse roles and pretty much steals the show as Jackie. As he would prove in Leon: The Professional, Oldman can have a great time stringing the audience along the ride of a total, drug addled sociopath with very few morals. He delivers an amazing dichotomy: Jackie’s a person willing to run through a building he’s torching or to bring a sledgehammer to scare protection money out of someone but all he really wants is to be loyal to friends and family and vice versa. It’s that kind of ideal that separates Jackie from other garden variety psychos in the cinematic world and ultimately makes it one of Oldman’s more memorable roles. Harris is at his most intimidating; he’s a charismatic pit bull who seethes and stews until the time is right to scream for bloodshed (when does he not? Oh yeah, in Stepmom…brrrr). He doesn’t get as many opportunities to fully froth at the mouth like he does in other films but he is still coldly sinister in his approach. Robin Wright gets the thankless “token female” role in a film filled with so much testosterone but she does well playing the distant woman that has been hurt all her life. Everyone plays off of each other very well, including Turturro, Reilly and Burgess Meredith, who has an effective cameo as a down-and-out resident of the neighborhood. It’s nothing new and you might know where it’s all going but everyone involved makes sure you have a hell of a time getting there. Oh, and everyone drinks in the movie…EVERYONE!
Character/Supporting Actor Sighting!:
- Thomas Duffy, who is one of Frankie’s henchmen in the end shootout, was Nirvana in Death Wish II.
- James Russo (Beverly Hills Cop, Extremities) is uncredited as DeMarco.
Body Count/Violence: 11. Director Phil Joanou must have watched some Peckinpah or Woo before doing this film because he certainly channels the style in the film’s violent scenes. Most of the shootings are exploding with blood and in super slo-mo and certainly don’t leave much to the imagination. The 10 minute final shootout at Frankie’s club would certainly be in the annals of bloodiest shootouts in film history if it was longer and involved more people. Hell, it still might be! Terry goes sauntering into the club and blasts Frankie’s entire gang with multiple shots and they don’t just spill blood. It literally looks like balloons of red Kool Aid explode from underneath their shirts with each hit! Terry gets shot numerous times as well, which means only more mayhem.
Sexuality/Nudity: Robin Wright shows off her breasts and ass briefly in a sex scene with Penn and is in a white bra in another scene. I can definitely see why Penn fell for her. At least she has less risk of disease than Madonna.
Language/Dialogue: It is aplenty! The F bomb is apparently dropped 210 times during 134 minutes so the film is definitely not without a Scorsese influence somewhere. My favorite: Jackie proclaiming himself to be “Friar Fuck”.
How bad was it?:
It was mostly met with favorable critical praise, yet there were a few that didn’t favor it due to obvious comparisons to Goodfellas and the like. I guess they would prefer it if only one person made films about the mafia and no one else. The film can’t help that is was released a week before the mob film to end all mob films.
Did it make the studio’s day?:
Hardly. Distributor Orion Pictures decided to basically give the film a death sentence by dropping it in all of 14 theaters on 9/14/90, five days before the release of Goodfellas. With limited publicity and suffering comparisons to the Scorsese film, State of Grace never stood a chance and only earned $1.9 million, with its highest release being 335 screens. What happened to Orion Pictures? Exactly.
Entertainment value: ****1/2/*****
Copyright 2007 The Action Mutant.