Aug 282015
 
State Of Grace Blu-ray Packshot
Title: State Of Grace
Genre: Crime, Thriller
Starring: Sean Penn,
Ed Harris,
Gary Oldman,
Robin Wright,
Certificate: US: R
UK: 18
Picture: 1080p
1.85:1
Audio Format: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Runtime: 2 Hours 09 mins
Extras: Ed Harris interview,
Retrospective ‘making of’.
Studio: Second Sight
Release Date: USA: Jun 08 2015
UK: Aug 24 2015
See If You Like: The Departed,
King of New York,
Donnie Brasco,
Amazing Grace?

 

Boasting a brilliant cast and some fine performances, State of Grace is a well-crafted crime-thriller which is now being released on Blu-ray for the first time.

Sean Pen (Colors, The Gunman) headlines the gritty venture into the criminal underworld of New York City, starring as undercover cop Terry Noonan; who returns to his old neighbourhood in Hell’s Kitchen after a ten-year absence, in order to investigate his former best friend’s brother.

After being welcomed by his old friend Jackie (Gary Oldman, Léon/The Fifth Element), Noonan meets the new boss; another old pal, and Jakie’s brother Frankie (Ed Harris, The Rock/A History of Violence); delves deeper into the world of the Irish mob (Wesites), rekindles an old love with former girlfriend/Jackie and Frankie’s sister Kathleen (Robin Wright, Forrest Gump), and looks for a way to take down Frankie – as a new alliance with the Italian mafia not only increases violence on the streets, but causes internal tension, and leads Terry to question his loyalty to his job, and his friends.

Granted, it’s a subject we’ve seen a dozen times (though hadn’t nearly so many times when it was released 25 years ago), but rarely done so well. The script manages to give a huge amount of depth to each of the characters (even minor supporting roles such as John C. Reilly’s gambler Stevie are treated with respect), so we learn to care for each of them, believe in each of their motivations, and become genuinely invested in each of their character arcs.

It also helps that each of the main characters are played by actors which have gone on to become huge stars. Sean Penn does a fantastic turn as the stoic undercover cop Terry;  constantly on guard, attempting to funnel information from those he’s investigating, and effectively portraying the inward struggle of loyalties pulling in two separate directions; while Gary Oldman’s turn as the psychotic but fiercely loyal Jackie (an alcoholic who loves nothing more than fist-fights, arson, and drinking… well, maybe a gunfight, and his friends of course) is a mesmerising watch; and Ed Harris delivers an effective showing as the strong-silent-type gang-boss Frankie (a part he’s echoed in numerous gang boss, army general, and CIA types in the years since State of Grace).

State Of Grace 01 Ed Harris

Robin Wright was a great choice for Noonan’s girlfriend, and Jackie and Frankie’s sister; effectively playing the cautious one who hopes to steer clear of the life (even having a day job), but finds herself constantly sucked back in, especially with Noonan’s arrival (displaying an unmistakeable chemistry with Penn which would eventually translate off screen); and one of several strong supporting stars which include not only Reilly, but Burgess Meredith (best known as Mickey from the Rocky films), John Turturro (Transformers), R.D. Call (Waterworld), and Joe Viterelli (Analyze This).

Direction is solid; State of Grace is clearly the best work Phil Joanou (Gridiron Gang) has ever done, and he did a fantastic job of not only casting, and shooting the film, but getting the best out of actors who could apparently get pretty unruly at times. Joanou also did a great job of filming New York City; bringing the classic, grimy, steam-filled, Irish-infested streets of NYC to life, and making the city itself a living thing (something which is clearly lacking in many modern-day NY set movies).

The action is great, it’s shockingly violent in places (especially for a 1990 film – certain scenes had to be cut or trimmed for theatrical release), the cinematography is stunning (as you’d expected, as it was handled by Blade Runner‘s Jordan Cronenweth), and the Ennio Morricone score is simply brilliant; as the Sergio Leone collaborator’s style lent itself perfectly to what is in essence a modern day western (even ending with a saloon shootout).

State Of Grace 02 Sean Penn

Yet State Of Grace isn’t entirely problem free. Noonan’s supposed to be an undercover cop, but we don’t really see anything to confirm that until a fair way through the film (yes, the beginning sets it up, but still it’s left alone for far too long), and there’s nowhere near enough UC terminology or actions seen; where are the wires? why does he never talk to his handler? and is he actually collecting any information, or trying to prevent anything? because we never see him calling the office with tips or anything.

There’s also not enough made of Noonan’s inner-struggle (the police force/sense of duty Vs. caring for old friends angle), especially not in the beginning, and when it does come out he blurts out his secret to someone he seriously shouldn’t be telling but doesn’t think twice about it (never seeming to wonder if his potentially life-threatening secret will be given away. Being asked to inform on certain members of the gang, hiding evidence, or something more significant than ignoring the issue would’ve helped a great deal to emphasise his turmoil.

In that regard, State of Grace would’ve worked just as well if it were a straight up gangster film (there’s enough going on within the gang – forming new relationships, the death of friends leading to mistrust, potential gang war with the Italians, etc.), and going in that direction would’ve provided more of an opportunity to either enhance the romance angle, or throw in some cool set pieces so we could see Jackie being a psycho, and having some more BFF time with Terry.

Still, saying there wasn’t enough UC coverage or enough of Noonan’s inner-turmoil is nothing but nitpicking. State Of Grace is a fantastic mid-budget crime thriller, with a stellar cast, a brilliant story, solid direction, and an excellent score. It’s easy to see why it’s earned such a cult following (and sadly also easy to see why it got buried during its theatrical run – being released, with no marketing budget, in the same year as films such as Goodfellas and King of New York), and it’s a film which really should be watched by all film fans.

State Of Grace 03 Gary Oldman, Robin Wright, Sean Penn

Picture:

Given its age State Of Grace looks far better than you may expect on Blu-ray. It comes to high-definition with a consistent grain field which can hamper fine detail in some shots, but serves to provide a true film-like quality to the image and thankfully shows there hasn’t been any excessive DNR used for this transfer.

Fleshtones appear natural, detail and textures are strong throughout, and black levels are suitably deep (though the blacks can swamp certain elements of detail in some of the more lowly lit scenes), and given there are next to no compression issues, or other anomalies to report (save the odd scratch or spot, which is to be expected given the film’s age), State Of Grace looks rather impressive in HD.

Audio:

A rather understated DTS-HD Mater Audio 5.1 surround sound track has been awarded to State Of Grace‘s Blu-ray release; a track with fairly limited range which is anchored just a little too heavily in the front and centre channels. Dialogue is faultless, the track is well prioritised, and is does flare up and fill the rear channels during some of the more action heavy/score heavy moments, but don’t expect to be wowed by the updated mix.

In fact, State Of Grace actually works best when listening to the original 2.0 channel stereo mix (available on this disc, courtesy of an LPCM soundtrack which is actually much more fitting of the film, and time period).

State Of Grace 04 Sean Penn, Gary Oldman

Extras:

While initially sounding pretty limited, with only two items of bonus content to choose from, the State Of Grace Blu-ray actually fares pretty well in the special features department.

  • First off, a retrospective interview with star Ed Harris provides a brief (under 4 minute) look back at the film, his interest in it, his co-stars etc. though while it’s always good to see those involved looking back Ed doesn’t delve deeply enough into any production aspect, can’t remember some things (like how the film was received when it came out), and stays just a little too praise heavy about the entire affair (it may have been a good shoot, he may have got on with his co-stars, and liked the entire process, but those stock answers don’t give us any real insight into proceedings, or Ed’s real views).
  •  

  • Secondly (and finally), we have a 22 minute-long ‘making of’ featurette (entitled Directing A Bunch of Gangster: Making State Of Grace); a fantastic retrospective, where director Phil Joanou talks in detail about every single aspect of the film – from how the script came to his attention, how the cast became involved (in detail, in which order the stars became attached, and even how their relationships continued after production wrapped), and what it was actually like controlling a bunch of actors who truly owned their characters both on and off camera. Phil also provides a wealth of interesting information on subjects such as the film’s score (originally a planned collaboration with rock band U2), the locations used (i.e. letting us know what chain stores have taken over some of the abandoned buildings used in the film) and, perhaps most interesting of all, discussing what it was like working for Orion Pictures, the differences to how many studios operate today, and both why and how State Of Grace was a commercial failure (not shying away from the fact it bombed at the Box Office).

So, while there may not be a huge quantity of special features available, the quality of what we do get is especially high (Ed’s interview may be skippable, but Phil’s making of is a must-watch for any fan). Retrospective features, which secure the input of those involved at the time, are always a huge bonus, and thankfully Phil’s discussion is very open, insightful, and easy to watch. It’s a shame we didn’t see the inclusion of the audio commentary track included on the limited edition American release, but overall fans should be very happy with the quality of this look back at an excellent, but failed, mid-budget movie.

State Of Grace 05 Gary Oldman

The Bottom Line:

With solid picture quality and original 2.0 channel audio track (both courtesy of a very respectable HD transfer) State Of Grace makes a noteworthy leap to Blu-ray. Also coming with retrospective interviews from Ed Harris and director Phil Joanou (which prove extremely informative and worthwhile)it’s the perfect chance to explore a mostly forgotten classic which deserves far more recognition than it ever received when it was initially released.

Sean Penn, Gary Oldman, Ed Harris and the rest of the supremely strong cast all deliver, the Ennio Morricone score is perfectly suited to this New York western, Phil’s direction is great, the cinematography is astounding, and it’s an all-round stunning film. A sadly forgotten crime-thriller which deserves, no… demands to be watched, it’s a brilliant piece of cinematic history which stands the test of time, will enthral any crime fan with it’s gripping narrative and powerful performances, and can still hold its own against most of the crime/gangster films released today.

Matt Wheeldon@TheMattWheeldon.

Film:
Ratings 08 Buy from Amazon.co.uk Buy from Amazon.com
Video:
Ratings 07
Audio:
Ratings 06
Extras:
Ratings 07
Overall:
Ratings 07