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State of Grace (1990)
Blu-ray Disc Released: 6/9/2015
All Ratings out of
Review by Stephanie Long, Posted on 6/14/2015
Have you ever felt like seemingly innocuous questions like “what is your favorite book?” or “what is your favorite movie?” are actually litmus tests that instantly give the asker of the question the ability to determine what kind of person you are based on your choice? Are you a hip, cool intellect with an appreciation of artistic fare, or are you one of the sheep who always likes whatever is popular at the moment no matter what the quality of the thing you like?
1990, I was in college and felt like everything I told others I liked had to reflect how intelligent, serious, and well-rounded I was. So when anyone asked me what my favorite movie was, I would respond State of Grace. I realize now after looking at IMDB and seeing it made less then two million when it was released that most people back then, and most likely today, would have no idea what I was talking about! And it really is a shame, because this movie has a fabulous cast of some of our best actors assembled into a decent drama reminiscent of The Departed.
State of Grace stars Sean Penn as Terry Noonan, a young man who returns to his childhood home in Hells Kitchen after being gone for ten years. He immediately reconnects with his hot-headed best friend Jack(ie) Flannery played by Gary Oldman, as well as rekindling an old romance with Jackie’s sister Kathleen (Robin Wright), who has tried to distance herself from her old neighborhood by getting a job in an uptown hotel. Jackie helps Terry get work with his older brother Frankie (Ed Harris) who is now the head of the Irish mob, but Terry is not what he seems as he is working undercover as a cop to help bring down the mob in his hometown. Things get even more complicated as tension between Frankie’s team and the head of the Italian mob come to a head when Jackie and Terry’s friend Stevie (John C. Reilly) is found with his throat slit.
The typical issues with movies that are 25 years old is that they appear dated and usually several movies with similar storylines have come along during that time that have done it all better. However, this movie still hits all the right chords thanks in part to its cast and the movie direction by Phil Joanou (known before that point as the director of the U2 documentary Rattle and Hum). The movie is gritty without being too dark. The use of a minor, slightly off chord song throughout the movie and slow motion clips at the beginning and end of the movie make the drama feel melancholy but not heavy handed.
The best part of the movie is in its cast. Seeing such heavy weight dramatic actors all in one movie, all in the earlier stages of their career, is fascinating. Penn and Oldman are particularly good in this movie, not a surprise when one reflects on the body of work of both actors, but it is more of the subtle things they do that convey the closeness of their friendship that is just as impressive then even Oldman’s explosiveness during moments of rage in the movie. Robin Wright, who met future husband Sean Penn on the movie set, reminds one of why we love her as Claire Underwood today on House of Lies - the roles are completely different, but both show she has great acting chops. I have always thought Ed Harris is one of our best actors, and his portrayal of Frankie is done without going over the top. The movie watcher sees his struggle with handling his hot-headed younger brother Jackie, dealing with Kathleen’s desire to distance herself from the family, and managing his own “business” while dealing with directives from the Italian mob that clash with his own desires and family interests as Harris plays Frankie as in control, in charge, yet morally questionable. And how about Cal Naughton, Jr., I mean John C. Reilly? People sometimes forget that the bulk of his earlier roles were in more serious dramas. Superb acting always helps older movies translate regardless of the time that has passed.
State of Grace made me want to bathe Gary Oldman on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Twilight Time. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, but it does show a very fine amount of grain throughout and there are some minor defects from the source materials, mostly minute black and white dots. The colors look natural, but the picture is a tad dark -- the action is always visible, but one can't help but think that it wouldn't hurt for the picture to be just a hair lighter. The depth here is a tough call. Overall, the film has the sort of flat look which can plague older movies, but the shot at the 19:17 mark where Terry and Stevie are walking shows distinct depth. The level of detail is stable for the most part. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.2 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects during street scenes are noticeable, and crowd scenes give us some mild surround sound effects. However, the bulk of the audio comes from the center and front channels.
The State of Grace Blu-ray Disc does not boast many extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Phil Joanou and Film Historian Nick Redman. One can choose to choose to listen to Ennio Morricone's score in an isolated DTS-HD MA 2.0 track. The only other extra is the "Original Theatrical Trailer" for the film.
Review Copyright 2015 by Mike Long