Fresh of his U2 docu-concert film Rattle and Hum, director Phil Joanou took the reins of this Irish NYC mob tale that got buried by the phenomenon that was Goodfellas. Equally as good at Scorsese's epic, State of Grace follows Terry Noonan (Sean Penn, in a multi-faceted performance), who returns to his old stomping grounds in Hell's Kitchen after disappearing for over a decade. He's greeted by his childhood best friend Jackie Flannery (Gary Oldman, chewing any and all scenery), a hot-headed impulsive alcoholic with his heart in the right place despite his violent tendencies. Jackie's brother, Frankie (Ed Harris, cool-eyed evil), heads up the Irish mafia, and welcomes Noonan back into the fold, with some suspicions. Indeed, Terry falls into a lot of old habits--including a romance with his first love, and sister to the Flannerys, Kathleen (Robin Wright, pre-Penn status, and the chemistry is undeniable here). But one thing is different this time around--Terry is an undercover cop, working to take down the very people he grew up with.
Dirtier, grittier and more-character driven than Goodfellas, State of Grace moves a leisurely pace, putting character before narrative. But as tensions mount and Terry gets in deeper and deeper, the film becomes hypnotic, culminating in a bravura shoot-out during a St. Patrick's Day parade. In addition to the excellent trio of stars, the supporting players are top-notch, and include John C. Reilly, John Turturro, Burgess Meredith and Joe Viterelli (with this caliber of serious actors, I can only imagine what an intense set this must have been). Plus, it's scored by the great Ennio Morricone (known for his collaborations with Sergio Leone on films such as Once Upon a Time in the West, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, and A Fistful of Dollars.) A stirring meditation of betrayal and redemption, State of Grace is an excellent film that didn't deserve the ambivalence it received when it graced screens in 1990.