An eager and idealistic young attorney defends an Alcatraz prisoner accused of murdering a fellow inmate. The extenuating circumstances: his client had just spent over three years in solitary confinement.
Terry Noonan returns home to New York's Hells Kitchen after a ten year absence. He soon hooks up with childhood pal Jackie who is involved in the Irish mob run by his brother Frankie. Terry also rekindles an old flame with Jackie's sister Kathleen. Soon, however, Terry is torn between his loyalty to his friends and his loyalties to others.Written by
Josh Pasnak <email@example.com>
Electrifying portrait of one man's battle with his own demons.
Once in a while a movie comes along that is a gift for an actor. It is like a golden opportunity that has been given to them, but there is a catch they have to deliver. Three actors were given that opportunity in State of Grace: Ed Harris, Gary Oldman and Sean Penn. All three deliver performances that easily merit a Best Actor Oscar, but it is the chemistry between Penn and Oldman that issue forth true gold. Oldman completely and utterly loses himself in the role of Jackie Flannery, a small-time Irish gangster that happens to be the younger, impulsive, reckless brother of the head boss of the Irish mob in Hell's Kitchen, Frank Flannery. Frank is brokering a deal with the Italian Cosa Nostra that will result in a major windfall of money and power for the much smaller gang of Irish mobsters. Frank is one of the only people who seems to understand how important this deal is, while the rest of the gang bristles against the direction of the much more powerful and organized Mafia. Every time it looks like the deal will go through, some member of Frank's gang does something stupid to insult the Italians, and each time this happens Frank is called upon (by the Italians) to do their retribution upon his own people.
In the midst of this very dangerous situation enters Terry Noonan (Sean Penn), Jackie's best friend from childhood who is now a cop and undercover with the directive to do no less than take down Frank's entire gang. In the beginning Terry seems eager to do his job, but as the reality of what he must do comes crashing down he is torn between his love for his old friend, and his duty as a policeman. This is further complicated by the fact that Jackie's sister Kathleen (Robin Wright Penn) and Terry were childhood sweethearts. As Terry renews his relationship with both Jackie and Kathleen he begins to lose his identity and his soul as he is torn apart by the things he must do as a policeman, what he sees being done by Frank and his gang, and his deepening relationship with Kathleen.
Oldman delivers an explosive performance and he seems to become even more unhinged and unpredictable each moment that he and Penn spend together. The true beauty of his performance is the fact that we know how intelligent Oldman is; yet he is totally believable as this half-witted madman who is rushing towards his own demise. It is Penn though that has the heavy lifting to do, because he doesn't have the luxury of hiding behind the frenetic machinations that Oldman's character does. You actually feel pain as you watch Terry get in deeper and deeper, drinking more and more, sleeping less and less, losing his direction and his mind.
The music by Ennio Morricone is haunting, brooding and electrifying; perfectly suited to the evolving story on screen. As we watch Terry betray his friends and himself, it seems as if pieces of him actually float away, carried on the wings of Morricone's music. Robin Wright Penn also delivers as a young woman who is desperately trying to escape the mean streets of the Kitchen, the violent world of her brothers, and her meager upbringing. She also underestimated what being with Terry would mean, especially after learning Terry's true identity. She is sucked back into what she has tried so hard to become free of, and must watch as her family and Terry disintegrates.
The entire movie is set upon a collision course between Terry and Frank, and when they finally collide, director Phil Joanou films it almost like a dream sequence. The power of this film is how it manages to so vividly portray one man's attempt to finally confront his past and his own character flaws. All of us have demons and we promise and strive to finally confront them, but do we ever? Facing our fears is one thing, but the true measure of a person's character is how we perform when that fear stares into us, face to face. Here, Terry comes full circle and finally confronts the demons of his youth, and the showdown might cost his life.
Watch this film for the terrific performances of all the lead actors, for the fantastic music, the frenetic action, and the moving drama, but watch it also to ask yourself, what are your demons, when will you finally face them and what will happen when you do?
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