Title: State of Grace (1990)
Director: Phil Joanou
Stars: Sean Penn, Gary Oldman, Ed Harris, Robin Wright and John C. Reilly
Terry Noonan (Penn) is a cop in Boston, who is tasked with returning to his childhood home of Hell’s Kitchen, in order to infiltrate a gang of Irish mobsters. The gang in question consists of his best friend Jackie (Oldman), Jackie’s brother Frankie (Harris) and Stevie (Reilly), amongst others. Also involved is Jackie’s sister Kathleen (Wright), who has distanced herself (literally) from her brother’s controversial lifestyle. Terry has been absent for ten years, but wastes little time in rekindling his friendship with Jackie. Frankie however is far more sceptical, wondering where Noonan has been all those years. He orders his henchman Nicholson (R.D. Call) to keep a close eye on Noonan whenever he can, so they can suss him out. Meanwhile, Stevie owes over eight grand to friends of Frankie’s Italian boss, which requires his demise. Frankie and Nicholson slit his throat and blame it privately on the Italians. Jackie, enraged, shoots three Italians dead in a bar as retaliation. Terry, who finds out who really perpetrated the murder, is seriously conflicted about potentially arresting his best friend and wants out of the case, but is told to finish the job by his handler (Jon Turturro).
Sean Penn had already entered some top quality performances by 1990, including in The Falcon and the Snowman (1985), At Close Range (1986) and especially 1989s Casualties of War, but State of Grace really marks a turning point for him into a more mature actor. This is also the movie where he met his future wife, Robin Wright and they had great chemistry together. The star of the film is undoubtedly the incomparable Gary Oldman. He gives one of his best performances as the hyperactive and volatile, Jackie. Despite being British, he has an absolutely flawless New Yawk accent. He steals every scene he appears in and it is not a coincidence that he has had steady work in Hollywood ever since he gave this dynamite performance. There is also solid support work from Ed Harris, R.D. Call, Jon Turturro and Burgess Meredith.
State of Grace features plenty of interest for the Irish viewer, especially considering the plot is full of references to the Emerald Isle and the music features our beloved U2. The film was directed by Phil Joanou, who is most famous for working with U2 on music videos and documentaries. Watch this film for Oldman’s incendiary performance, the engaging script and Ennio Morricone’s typically great score.