State of Grace is a minor gangster film that seems to have been forgotten over the years so much so that Ed Harris admits his minor surprise about being asked to talk about it in the interview. It came out the same week as Goodfellas and it’s certainly not in that league by any means but it has its own virtues and that film’s box-office success basically kicked State of Grace out of theatres. The film really comes into its own because due to it’s exceptional cast spear-headed by Sean Penn and Gary Oldman who was really at the top of his game.
Sean Penn plays a Terry Noonan comes back to his old neighbourhood of Hell’s Kitchen New York City and hooks up with his old friend Jackie Flannery (Gary Oldman) who is involved with the local Irish Mob. Frankie’s brother Frankie (Ed Harris) is the gangster who runs the mob and Sean hookups up with his ex-love Kathleen who is Frankie and Jackie’s sister but little do they know he is actually an undercover cop so everything gets complicated.
Gary Oldman is really at the height of his career, the next year he would star as Lee Harvey Oswald in JFK and he is chewing the scenery slightly but it’s an impressive performance and the character’s alcoholism is really comes through the way Oldman just moves in the film. Sean Penn was trying to move into darker more serious roles at the time (which he is now best known for) and you can certainly tell that he is on the road to bigger and better things on the basis of this performance. Ed Harris almost didn’t do the film because of being exhausted after making The Abyss but finally agreed in the week before to do the film and it’s one of his earliest “villainous” roles and you can certainly see how he would get cast later in Cronenberg’s gangster film A History of Violence on the strength of this performance.
U2 were originally set to score the film because Phil Joanou directed their concert film Rattle and Hum and many music videos for Bongo, the hedge and the other two. U2 were recording Achtung Baby so they were forced to bow out so Joanou asked the Italian maestro composer Ennio Morricone to do the score and he agreed and brings the film a big epic feel. Jordan Cronenweth who shot Blade Runner along with Stop Making Sense (which Second Sight is releasing on Blu-Ray later this year) and numerous other classic films was hired to shoot it and despite his ailing health he brings to the film its look which seems like it was made by a better director than Joanou helmed the picture.
Overall State of Grace is a minor gangster film in a year that released some classic gangster films like Goodfellas, Miller’s Crossing and King of New York and might not hold a candle to those but due its cast and gorgeous cinematography it remains a little seen gem. It’s a shame Phil Joanou has made a film as good since but if you have one good film in you it’s better than most. The new Blu-Ray includes newly filmed interviews with Joanou and Ed Harris.
Crime, Drama | USA, 1990 | 18 | Second Sight | 24th August 2015 (UK) Dir.Phil Joanou |Sean Penn, Ed Harris, Gary Oldman,Robin Wright, John Turturro,Burgess Meredith |Buy:State of Grace [Blu-ray]