State of Grace stars Sean Penn as Terry Noonan, an undercover cop who’s tasked with sorting out what’s rotten in the state of New York, namely the nefarious doings of Frankie Flannery (Ed Harris) and his loose cannon brother Jackie (Gary Oldman), the latter being Terry’s best friend from when they were growing up round there. Taking place in Hell’s Kitchen, also caught up in this is their sister Kathleen (Robin Wright, who later went on to marry Penn). There’s a mutual attraction between her and Terry, but there’s a potentially explosive outcome to the fact that, after ten years of being away, you’re investigating your own friends and their involvement in gang warfare, and just when you think you’ve got a hold on it all, hard-drinking Jackie starts throwing his weight around with the mob.
Based on the real-life Irish mob gang The Westies, I don’t want to say too much else because once you know the initial set-up, the enjoyment is in watching how things pan out. Yes, there are scenes when you can predict what’s going to happen next, but since a lot of them result in people winding up dead, these are all directed so well by Phil Joanou that you have to rewatch them immediately, not least because the bullets fly too quickly, but then bullets and guns weren’t invented to be slow.
Penn – hot off the heels of films like Colors and Casualties of War – and Oldman – a stone’s throw from making the big time – are on top form here. Harris is good, but he’s been better. Robin Wright’s good value and there’s also great support from a cast of well known names such as John C Reilly (We Need To Talk About Kevin), John Turturro (God’s Pocket), Burgess Meredith (Rocky) and RD Call as Frankie’s henchman Pat, who popped up in a smaller role as a cop in Colors, on the other side of the law from this film.
There’s also a brilliant climactic shootout which shows why Sean Penn can easily hold his own in the action stakes, so it was great to see him back on top form earlier this year in The Gunman.
The film is presented in the original 1.85:1 widescreen ratio and in 1080p high definition. The print has certainly been cleaned up and is going to look as good as it can be, with great definition in a lot of scenes, but due to the filming process, some scenes are quite soft and that’s how they’ll stay. It’s not a fault of the mastering, but it’s just not going to look as sharp as a modern day film.
Shot in Dolby Stereo Spectral Recording, that’s effectively like Dolby Surround before that name evolved. This disc has a choice between Stereo PCM and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, but you’d be hard pushed to tell the difference since there’s absolutely nothing at all going on in the rear speakers. Ennio Morricone provided the score, and the main theme is a rather strange one with a random horn being shoved in there at times.
There are just two extras on this disc, both interview pieces filmed recently:
- Directing A Bunch of Gangsters (22:44): Director Phil Joanou talks about making the film and how it’s based on the Westies, a gangster family who he’d been simultaneously researching by chance, who were the real-life Hell’s Kitchen gang. I didn’t go a bundle on some other films of his, such as Heaven’s Prisoners and Final Analysis, but Joanou certainly has an effervescent personality and a passion for what he does. He talks us through other aspects of the film including the casting of all the lead parts.
- Ed Harris on State of Grace (3:45): A much shorter piece, with Harris talking about his time making the film. Both interviews have clips from the film mixed in.
There are 20 chapters on this disc which is most welcome as it’s better than the usual 12 most distributors give. I would always recommend one every 5 minutes, which is almost on a par with the number here. The menu mixes clips from the film with Morricone’s theme.
Another Second Sight Sean Penn release, there are also no subtitles on this disc which is particularly annoying here because, similarly, a lot of the characters talk way too fast and many slur their words in their New Yoik accent, so I had to rewind a lot of conversations and even then I was occasionally none the wiser. For a disc being retailed at £19.99, these should not be left out.
State Of Grace is out now on Blu-ray, and click on the packshot for the full-size image.
Running time: 134 mins
Released: August 24th 2015
Picture: 1080p High Definition
Sound: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Stereo PCM
Disc Format: BD50
Director: Phil Joanou
Producers: Ned Dowd, Randy Ostrow and Ron Rotholz
Screenplay: Dennis McIntyre
Music: Ennio Morricone
Terry Noonan: Sean Penn
Frankie Flannery: Ed Harris
Jackie Flannery: Gary Oldman
Kathleen Flannery: Robin Wright
Nick: John Turturro
Finn: Burgess Meredith
Pat Nicholson: RD Call
Borelli: Joe Viterelli
Stevie McGuire: John C Reilly
Irene: Deirdre O’Connell
Jimmy Cavello: Marco St John
Frankie’s Man: Thomas G Waites
Frankie’s Man: Brian Burke
Frankie’s Man: Michael Cumpsty
Frankie’s Man: Michael Cunningham
Frankie’s Man: Daniel O’Shea
Frankie’s Man: Thomas F Duffy
Alvarez: Jaime Tirelli
Stevie’s Date: Sandra Beall
Borelli’s Man: Vincent Guastaferro
Borelli’s Man: John Anthony Williams
Borelli’s Man: John Roselius
Borelli’s Man: Louis Eppolito
Maureen: Mo Gaffney
Raferty (Bar Owner): John MacKay
Raferty’s Son: John Ottavino
Bar Customer: Tim Gallin
Bar Customer: Timothy D Klein
Matty’s Bartender: Jack Wallace
Bartender: Frank Girardeau
Bartender: Michael P Moran
Bartender: Frank Coletta
Pool Hall Manager: Paul-Felix Montez
Waitress: Freddi Chandler
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.