#Noirvember: “State of Grace” (1990) starring Sean Penn, Ed Harris, Gary Oldman, & Robin Wright

A family ripped apart by violence. A love corrupted by betrayal. A friendship stained by blood. -A tagline for the movie

This is the month when ALL of us film noir fans celebrate the genre; I’m starting off w/ a neo noir which MANY won’t know about. A young Boston patrolman, Terry Noonan (Sean Penn), is recruited to go undercover in his old neighborhood (Hell’s Kitchen in NYC) and infiltrate the Irish mob run by the older brother- Frank Flannery (Ed Harris)- of his childhood best friend, Jack Flannery (Gary Oldman). To complicate matters further, Terry’s 1st love that he is still pulled toward- Kathleen (Robin Wright- in her early 20s)- is the younger sister of the Flannery brothers. Penn and Wright became a couple during the filming; they have good chemistry here. Several incidents in this movie are based on testimony given by captured NYC mobsters, incl. the meeting in the restaurant w/ the Italian mafioso and the dead man’s hand sequences.

I never heard of this film (shot partly inside one of Trump’s hotels) until recently; it was released in the same year as the (now mob classic) Goodfellas! Who could live up to that comparison!? The director, Phil Joanou, was in his late 20s (like some of his actors) when this movie was made. Though the (then up-and-coming) actors are hungry (and doing their best), the script is NOT very strong. As MANY experienced actors have commented over the yrs: “If it’s not on the page, it’s not on the stage.” I stopped the movie 3x while watching it last weekend to do chores (which I hate doing – LOL); this proved that it lacked momentum. It is also too long- 2 hr. 14 mins. When this happens in a movie categorized as “action/crime/thriller,” it’s NOT a good sign.

Though Penn would go on to become a big name 1st, I was more impressed by Oldman (who has long-ish hair and a grungy look). His NYC accent is flawless and he seems to totally inhabit his volatile, hard-drinking character. In the few quiet scenes, Oldman gets to show the hidden insecurity/vulnerability of Jackie, such as when he and Harris share a hug. Oldman hails from an area of London which is known to be tough. Fun fact: Oldman fell in love w/ Uma Thurman while working on this film; she was the former gf of the director. I learned that Penn and Oldman performed a (fiery/dangerous) stunt themselves- yikes! Harris has long been a character actor that I admired; Wright is also good (as I expected), though early in her career. Look out also for John Turturro and a V young/skinny John C. Reilly in (smaller) roles. If you like neo-noirs, the ’90s aesthetic, mob movies, and/or the gritty side of NYC, then check it out (free for Amazon Prime subscribers).

2 thoughts on “#Noirvember: “State of Grace” (1990) starring Sean Penn, Ed Harris, Gary Oldman, & Robin Wright

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