Sunday, February 06, 2011

"State of Grace" (1990) - Movie Review

In “Donnie Brasco” and the Chinese film “Infernal Affairs” it not alone dealt with the undercover cop’s turmoil in becoming a part of the gang they are infiltrating but also how they were still able to do their job successfully. In both films the cop was a good undercover man playing the cards rightfully as though they exist to do this thing. The details of their initialization in to the gang are shortened and goes relatively fine. They are not scared by it or the film deals more so with the after math of their induction than the process itself. In “State of Grace” they show a cop who for nostalgic reasons goes back to his native Hell’s Kitchen and realizes he is not cut out for this job because he cannot distinguish between his job’s direction and his best friend’s madness.

Sean Penn is the cop. He is Terry Noonan and runs back to his neighbourhood after a set up for his background as a thug on the run killing couple of thugs over a bad drug deal. After a decade he can go back to his friend Jackie (Gary Oldman) and still pick up where they left off. After a decade he can go to his neighbourhood and hook up with his old girl friend Kathleen (Robin Wright-Penn) who is also Jackie’s sister. After a decade he can go back to his neighbourhood and become one of them without even trying. Sometimes how much ever you bury the past all it takes is the environment and people to bring it out in the worst time possible.

Jackie is his best buddy and they grew up together in this place. Jackie’s dad used to run the mob and now it is Jackie’s elder brother Frankie Flannery (Ed Harris) running things. He is not a good boss. He does not have much control over his boys and the Italians are tightening up and work on a business deal. He goes out to threaten an old man running a bar to make him buy from his supply for. The old man does not cave. Soon his right hand man Nicholson (R. D. Call) punches the old man when the compassionate Stevie (John C. Reily) jumps on him. Soon Terry and Jackie are over Nicholson. Frankie is out of sorts in the business but is desperate to run it.

Jackie if no one figures out by the first 30 seconds into his introduction that he is a loose cannon should be somewhere else. He is obnoxious and loud mouthed but loves his roots, family and friendship. He is dangerous and a drunk. Terry comes back and immediately mingles well along with Jackie and the goons. He behaves as one of them and he even forgets that he is a cop. When he sees Kathleen even the slightest shred of those evidence of him being in the job disappears. As much as he is concerned he is back to the old days.

Written by Dennis McIntyre and directed by Phil Joanou, “State of Grace” has a deep and profound story of torn loyalty and the blurry vision of one’s past in right and wrong. Yet it suffers from lifting it all the way through to its audience. It has some of the best actors perfect at their prime best and they claw it through for most of it but the impact goes without a punch. I think it is due to the nature of the character Terry himself. May be we got used to seeing a successful undercover cop in distress than a realistic cop unable to go through with it. But that is giving reasons to myself. The men in the previously mentioned films of this genre were unsuccessful in different ways. Here the character of Terry is brave enough to admit it.

Sean Penn is young and charming as Terry Noonan. Gary Oldman feats on his Jackie and is stumbling all over the place as a drunk and a man driven by mad misplaced emotions and loyalty. These are the funny and dangerous psychopaths with odd feelings about friendship and family. He is true to his nature of being in a gang and stands up for his friends.

What I liked about “State of Grace” is how the characters try to cling on to the past and deny to let go off the past life. Kathleen and Terry are two people who are trying their best to get away from this life and yet they are pulled in back as though they are asking for it. The thing I did not like about “State of Grace” is the obligatory revenge ending as though there is no way out of this. Despite the beautifully shot finale of slo-mo gun fights for the time, it could have had a real state of graceful ending.

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