Saturday, February 18, 2012

State of Grace. A


State of Grace has a similar relationship to Goodfellas that Rob Roy has to Braveheart. Both sets of films were released in the same year, and one clearly overshadows the other. Braveheart took all the glory in 1995, leaving Rob Roy completely neglected. The same thing happened with Goodfellas and State of Grace. These two were actually released within a few weeks of each other in the fall of 1990, and obviously Goodfellas is the one that has remained with viewers while State of Grace almost ceases to exist. But don't let publicity steer you to one and avoid another; State of Grace is a masterful crime drama, and while it doesn't compare to Goodfellas, what actually does? I will say that State of Grace is a better film than Scarface, Carlito's Way, New Jack City, The Untouchables, Casino, The Departed, and a host of other crime dramas. So why is it not seen on the same level as these films, or rather, not seen at all? One deterrent might be that the movie is too structured, that it doesn't unfold as naturally as Goodfellas. Then again, a movie like The Departed feels even more manufactured, and a lot of people call that one a masterpiece. Another aspect might be that this picture is well directed by a guy who never made a good movie afterwards. Phil Joanou isn't a hot name, mainly known now for directing U2 videos. Other than that, the cast is one of the best ever assembled, with Sean Penn, Gary Oldman, and Ed Harris in lead roles and Robin Wright, John C. Reilly, and John Tuturro, and Joe Viterelli in supporting roles. It also has Blade Runner cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth and a solid score from Ennio Morricone. The story sounds a bit unremarkable, with a cop (Penn) infiltrating an Irish mob group run by two brothers (Harris and Oldman). But there's plenty of spice beneath the surface; it happens that Penn's character is old friends with the brothers, and also once dated their sister (Wright). The set-up is a little pulpy, but it unfolds with honesty and realism. The movie is always believable. One of the great strengths of State of Grace is just how much energy it has. There is one genuinely memorable scene after another and so many unexpected turns that the story takes, not so much plot wise but in its treatment of the characters. And of course the performances are spectacular: Oldman gained the most praise upon the film's release, offering one of his famous out-of-control roles (it's hard to believe he's the same low key guy from the recent Batman films and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy). His must set some sort of record for the most scenes drinking some sort of alcohol. There's hardly a moment when he's not intoxicated to some degree. Harris and Penn both give more low key performances, a good balance with the theatrics from Oldman. I hope I've expressed clearly that this is a great film. Maybe its problem is that it doesn't have a great title. If I were seeing a movie and saw an advertisement for this and Goodfellas, I'd pick the latter based on its name alone.

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