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After 12 years absence, Terry Noonan (Sean Penn) returns to New York's Hell's Kitchen sometime in the 70s to find that his old stomping ground, a one-time cesspit of sleaze bars and marauding gangs, has been invaded by yuppies hell-bent on making the place a better place to live. He meets up with his Irish-American buddies from the good-old-bad-old days: career crook Frankie Flannery (Ed Harris) and his psychotic brother Jackie (Gary Oldman) who are determined to keep the mean streets mean and he falls in love again with childhood sweetheart, Kathleen (Robin Wright). But with the cops closing in, no-one is safe and the cops are closer than the gangsters think.

Review by Keith Lofthouse:
Swept aside by Martin Scorsese's similar, superior GoodFellas released the same year, State Of Grace is a gritty, violent but good-looking crime melodrama, based on the chronicles of the Westies, a real-life gang of Irish-American murderers and thugs who ruled Manhattan in the 70s. On first release, many reviewers did the film a terrible disservice when they revealed a crucial plot detail in their opening synopses that the director preferred to keep secret until the second hour of this 144 minute film. You are therefore wise to read no other review but this!

When from out of nowhere, Terry Noonan embraces his former best friend Jackie Flannery in a Hell's Kitchen saloon after 12 years "on the road" Jackie is just nutty enough to believe that Terry was "dropped off by the angels" and just mad enough to imagine that by doing bad things he's doing good for the 'hood. The yuppies are coming and rising rents are forcing a changing of the guard. The punters are moving out and dealing in drugs isn't dragging in the profits it once did. Even Frankie has shifted to the 'burbs, keeping his distance from the invading gentry and the crimes of his calling, ruling the roost from the comfort of a nice home in a neat tree-lined street. Between bloodier monstrosities, the fighting Flannerys see it as their civic duty to burn down the construction office on the Hell's Kitchen site that is earmarked for a new high-rise apartment block. If Frankie's brain is addled by too much booze and a dependence on the very drugs he peddles, Jackie is double jeopardy.

A seething, sentimental souse of the very worst kind, he weeps with emotion over the St Patrick's Day parade and keeps an assortment of severed hands in the fridge to impress lifeless fingerprints on crime scene firearms. Here, Oldman delivers the kind of loose-screw performance he has been renowned for since his big screen debut as Sex Pistol Sid Vicious in Sid And Nancy (1986) manically over the top, of course, but mightily entertaining. Torn between loyalties and distracted by love for Kathleen, Penn's role makes him little more than a observant foreman at the frenetic Flannery crime factory, while motivation for the Flannery shenanigans is brushed aside by throwaway lines like: "I'm Irish we drink we shoot people."

There are scenes of real poignancy, however, midst others of rank stupidity and of senseless, self-defeating betrayal. When Terry comes hustling for money, Burgess Meredith as Finn, an old friend of Terry's father, quivers that he is "just an old man eating stewed tomatoes out of a can." There are few more affecting moments in this overlong but impressively shot film, which ends in showy slow-mo when the Wild Bunch is let loose on the Mean Streets in a not unexpected bloodbath. Until then, the film had been fairy gripping but in the end it is defeated by the sum of its gratuitous body parts.

Published January 29, 2004

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(US, 1990)

CAST: Sean Penn, Ed Harris, Gary Oldman

DIRECTOR: Phil Joanou

SCRIPT: Dennis McIntyre

RUNNING TIME: 134 minutes

PRESENTATION: Dolby digital

SPECIAL FEATURES: Theatrical trailer; photo gallery.


DVD RELEASE: October 20, 2003

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