• State Of Grace

    Released by: Twilight Time
    Released on: June, 2015.
    Director: Phil Joanou
    Cast: Sean Penn, Ed Harris, Gary Oldman, Robin Wright
    Year: 1990
    Purchase From Screen Archives

    The Movie:

    Before Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood got gentrified, it was a tough part of town. It was a tough, working class neighborhood with a lot of dive bars populated by tough guys mostly of Irish descent. If you walk through it these days, even without having been there before it got cleaned up, you can still get a feel for it – but if you want the next best thing to having a time machine to experience it firsthand, watch Phil Joanou’s 1990 film State Of Grace.

    The picture is, as you’d probably have guessed at this point, set in the Hell’s Kitchen of its day. Here we meet a young man named Terry Noonan (Sean Penn) who has returned to the neighborhood he grew up in after some time away. He’s excited to reunite with the guys he used to hang out and run with, guys like Frankie Flannery (Ed Harris) who leads a gang along with his younger brother Jackie (Gary Oldman) and he’s excited to be back in touch with his old flame, Kathleen (Robin Wright), their sister.

    As they catch up – hanging out and drinking, mostly – Terry winds up playing those old tapes over in his head. Before you know it, he and the Flannery boys are back at it, and while Kathleen has moved south away from Hell’s Kitchen to escape the neighborhood and its criminal baggage, she can’t help but get involved with Terry again. He and Jackie wind up working together on a few jobs – some arson, some extortion. Emotions are running high between the two men. Things get complicated though when Frankie starts talking to the Mafia. Jackie flat out refuses to let them into the neighborhood and their business there, while the real reason that Terry has come back in the first place starts to become a problem.

    State Of Grace gets everything right. The storyline is gripping, well written, intelligent and emotionally involving. The characters talk like real people, they deal with real issues and they come from a real place. This film is perfectly grounded and it never takes you out of the moment. The fact that it was shot on location helps here quite a bit, as there’s no place that looks more like Manhattan than Manhattan, and the cinematography does a fantastic job of capturing the city’s pace and energy. The dingy bars and rundown tenement buildings that make up this playground for Terry and his pals has got ‘hard living’ written all over it, and there’s no better location for a story like this take place in. Ennio Morricone’s score does a great job of accentuating the tone of the film and it’s earthy visuals while still managing to heighten tension and make the dramatic scenes just that much more involing.

    Of course, this wouldn’t matter much if the performances weren’t up to par, but again, State Of Grace earns top marks. Ed Harris is great as the older guy in the group. He’s more a businessman than the others, he’s got a more logical thought process to the way that he runs things but at the same time, he’s no one to be trifled with. Harris plays this part well, bringing a tough guy persona to is portrayal of Frankie but never coming across as a meathead or a thug. Penn also hits it out of the park here. His work as Terry is fantastic as he creates a character enveloped in his own inner conflict. He loves these guys like family and he clearly still cares deeply about Kathleen as well. At the same time, as much as he might not want to admit it, he knows what he’s there to do. Robin Wright also does fine work here. She’s distanced herself from the mayhem her brothers seem to be drawn to but family is family and again, she can’t help herself, particularly when it comes to Terry. Supporting work from Burgess Meredith, a young John C. Reilly, John Turturo and R.D. Call is also noteworthy and very well handled.

    The real scene stealer here, however, is Gary Oldman. As much a chameleon as an actor, his greasy haired Jackie Flannery is a force to be reckoned with. Clad in his hip-length leather coat he’s kettle that consistently boils. He solves his problems through violence and he wouldn’t have it any other way and as such, he’s an adrenaline junkie, albeit the kid that gets his high not from jumping out of an airplane but from combat. Oldman plays the part so perfectly you almost forget you’re watching an actor perform. He really and truly makes this character his own and he’s so good here that even if the rest of the film were a disaster, it would still be worth seeing. Thankfully that’s not the case.


    State Of Grace arrives on Blu-ray framed in its original aspect ratio of 1.85.1 in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. This transfer offers a substantial upgrade over the previous DVD release that came out through MGM way back in 2002, as it should. Detail is typically excellent, with only a few shots showing a sort of hazy look that was no doubt done intentionally for artistic reasons. Skin tones look nice and lifelike and color reproduction is very strong, as are black levels. There are no problems with contrast blooming, compression artifacts or edge enhancement and the nice, film-like appearance keep the movie’s grain structure intact. There’s very nice depth, texture and detail throughout the film – the picture quality here is impressive.

    The only audio option for the feature is an English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track, with optional subtitles provided in English SDH. This track basically keeps the dialogue up front in the mix but does some decent directional placement with the effects and with the score. Morricone’s work in this film is fantastic and it really shines here in lossless format, while the dialogue stays clean and clear and properly balanced, never buried in the mix. There are no problems with any hiss or distortion and all in all, the movie sounds pretty strong on this disc.

    The main extra on the disc is an audio commentary with Phil Joanou and film historian Nick Redman that goes into quite a bit of detail about the making of this picture. There’s plenty of talk about working with and directing the leads in the film, about shooting the picture on location and some of the difficulties involved in that, about the story arcs that combine to make up the whole of the film and more. This is well paced and if Joanou does occasionally go a little bit quiet, Redman is savvy enough to ask him good questions and get him talking again.

    Aside from that, we get the film’s excellent score represented as an isolated audio track in DTS-HD format, the movie’s original theatrical trailer, menus and chapter selection. Julie Kirgo’s liner notes, contained in a full color insert booklet, offer some pretty astute observations about the role that the neighborhood in the film plays and about the performances and characters.

    The Final Word:

    No question about it, State Of Grace is one of the best mob movies of its era. It’s tense, it’s exciting and it’s incredibly well acted but at the same time, it offers up some interesting food for thought as we see the relationships between the three main characters evolve. Twilight Time’s Blu-ray isn’t stacked with extras but the isolated score is always a welcome plus and the commentary is insightful and interesting. More importantly, the film looks and sounds excellent.
    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!