State of Grace (1990)

by | Aug 20, 2023 | 1990s, Crime, Film Reviews, Thriller | 0 comments

A Gritty Tale of Loyalty and Betrayal


Release date: 14 September 1990 (USA)
Genre: Thriller/Crime
Directors: Phil Joanou, Michael Lee Baron
Cinematographer: Jordan Cronenweth
Budget: $18 million USD (estimated)
Box office: $1.9 million USD


In the vast landscape of crime dramas, few films manage to capture the essence of loyalty, betrayal, and the human condition quite like “State of Grace” (1990). As a film and movie blogger, I had the privilege of revisiting this hidden gem that often goes unnoticed amidst the glitz and glamour of its contemporaries. Drawing inspiration from a rich genre, “State of Grace” weaves a narrative tapestry that combines compelling characters, intense performances, and an atmospheric depiction of New York City’s underbelly.


State of Grace (1990) A Gritty Tale of Loyalty and Betrayal | Movie Review


Storyline and Characters

At its core, “State of Grace” presents a classic story of a man torn between two worlds – the gritty underworld of organized crime and the camaraderie of his childhood friends. Set against the backdrop of Hell’s Kitchen in the 1980s, the film follows Sean Penn’s character, Terry Noonan, a former Irish mobster who returns to his old neighbourhood after a long absence. His journey is a tumultuous one, as he attempts to reconnect with his childhood friend Jackie Flannery (Gary Oldman), who is now a charismatic and ruthless leader in the Irish mob.

The film’s strength lies in its portrayal of complex characters navigating moral dilemmas. Gary Oldman’s Jackie is a standout, portraying a man whose charisma hides a dangerous unpredictability. His magnetic screen presence captivates the audience, making it hard to look away even when his actions turn sinister. Sean Penn’s performance as Terry is equally commendable; he captures the internal struggle of a man battling his own past, torn between his loyalty to Jackie and his desire to do what’s right.


State of Grace (1990) A Gritty Tale of Loyalty and Betrayal | Movie Review


Filming and Cast

“State of Grace” benefits immensely from its talented ensemble cast. The chemistry between Penn, Oldman, and Ed Harris, who plays Jackie’s older brother and rival mob leader, is palpable. The interactions between these characters are electric, creating a tense and realistic portrayal of the complexities within the criminal world. The film’s director, Phil Joanou, deserves credit for capturing the atmospheric essence of Hell’s Kitchen, presenting a gritty and authentic depiction of the neighbourhood that serves as both a backdrop and a character in its own right.

Facts about the filming reveal the dedication of the cast and crew to bringing this story to life. The actors immersed themselves in the roles, spending time with former gang members to understand the culture and dynamics of the criminal world. This commitment is evident in the authenticity of their performances, adding depth and credibility to the characters they portray.


State of Grace (1990) A Gritty Tale of Loyalty and Betrayal | Movie Review


Reception and Box Office

Upon its release, “State of Grace” faced tough competition at the box office and garnered mixed reviews from critics. While some praised its character-driven narrative and atmospheric setting, others felt that the film was too familiar in its exploration of organised crime themes. Despite its initial lukewarm reception, the film has found a dedicated following over the years, often being rediscovered by cinephiles and crime drama enthusiasts.

One cannot overlook the influence “State of Grace” has had on subsequent crime dramas. Its impact on the genre is undeniable, as it paved the way for more nuanced and character-driven narratives, challenging the conventions of the traditional mobster film.


State of Grace (1990) A Gritty Tale of Loyalty and Betrayal | Movie Review


Gary Oldman’s Outstanding Performance

A special mention must be reserved for Gary Oldman’s exceptional performance as Jackie Flannery. Oldman’s ability to fully inhabit his characters is well-known, and his portrayal of Jackie is no exception. He infuses the character with an intoxicating blend of charm, volatility, and vulnerability. From the twinkle in his eye during a charismatic speech to the cold ruthlessness he displays in moments of violence, Oldman’s performance is a masterclass in acting. It’s no surprise that his portrayal of Jackie is often regarded as one of the standout roles in his illustrious career.


State of Grace (1990) A Gritty Tale of Loyalty and Betrayal | Movie Review



“State of Grace” might not have achieved instant acclaim upon its release, but it has undoubtedly earned its place in the pantheon of crime dramas. Its exploration of loyalty, friendship, and the dark allure of the criminal world remains compelling, thanks in no small part to the powerhouse performances of its cast. Gary Oldman’s portrayal of Jackie Flannery is a tour de force that alone makes the film worth watching. While the film does tread on familiar ground within the crime genre, its character-driven narrative and authentic portrayal of Hell’s Kitchen set it apart.

For fans of gritty crime dramas and those who appreciate the complexity of human relationships, “State of Grace” is a must-watch. It’s a film that demands patience and rewards those who invest in its characters and their journeys. With its evocative depiction of a bygone era and the intricacies of loyalty and betrayal, “State of Grace” earns a solid 7 out of 10 in my book. It might not be a flawless masterpiece, but it’s a testament to the power of storytelling and the lasting impact of memorable performances.


My Rating: 7/10





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