State of Grace is a movie from 1990 that has enough power to last until 2008. It stars a very young Sean Penn, a very young Gary Oldman, a very young Robin Wright (before the Penn) and an old looking as usual Ed Harris.
The plot centers around a young Irish hoodlum (Penn) who returns to Hell’s Kitchen New York after being away for years. When he returns, he meets back up with a family of Irish mobsters that he used to hang out with back in the old days. Namely Gary Oldman and his brother Ed Harris. It turns out that Harris has now become a boss of his own small time gang and is running a section of the Kitchen with the help of his loose cannon psychopath brother Oldman. Penn is now caught back into the old world of crime and violence that he tried to escape from all those years ago.
I had seen this movie around 1994 and enjoyed it, but I had forogtten almost everything in it. So I thought I would give it another go to remember why I liked it so much. The second viewing was just as good. This movie packs an acting punch. The trio of Sean Penn, Gary Oldman and Ed Harris really slaps your face red. Oldman especially knows how to take a character and make it his own, and his Jackie Flannery has all the insanity that the characters in the Departed lacked. Of course, I decided to stand this movie toe to toe with the Departed, both being rather similar. The Departed is a good movie, but very flawed. If it had been directed by anyone else, it would have been a great movie, but I expect nothing but the best from Martin Scorsese, in which case..not so good. State Of Grace, however, holds sway over what a good downtown Irish mob movie should be. The characters are ruthless and terrifying, and not so cartoony as they are in the Departed. Gary Oldman could hug you in one minute and then slit your throat in the next, without a reason. His long greasy hair and shit-eating grin really reminded me of the Joker in a way. The great thing about Oldman’s character in this movie is that you love to hate him but kinda like him as well; he really holds the screen and his de-evolution as a human being really makes you just wait for him to get his just desserts. Ed Harris plays a good newbie mob boss, trying to figure out the ropes but is still intimidated and scared by the Italian gangsters who actually run the town. He plays an icy creep very well. And then there is Sean Penn. This was his 15th movie, and really helped secure his transition into being considered a very serious actor. He is very strong in this movie, but is absolutely overshadowed by Oldman. Penn is an interesting good guy because he wants to reject his old life, but yet, this is all he knows. It’s been done time and time again, I know, but it does seem to really work this time around. It doesn’t feel as cliched as it easily could have. There is another twist in this movie that will be compared to the Departed, but I won’t give that away. Also look for some great cameos by John Turturro and a little-kid-looking John C. Reilly.
All in all…this is a great film to see. The violence and situations are very gritty and real and it keeps you going all the way through. Even though it came out 18 years ago (JESUS I FEEL OLD), it will still kick in your teeth even today. -Ben