State of Grace

State of Grace Information

State of Grace is a 1990 neo-noir crime film starring Sean Penn, Ed Harris and Gary Oldman, also featuring Robin Wright, John Turturro and John C. Reilly. Written by Dennis McIntyre and directed by Phil Joanou, the film was executive produced by Ned Dowd, Randy Ostrow, and Ron Rotholz, with a musical score by Ennio Morricone. Although not a box office success, the film was generally well received by critics.

Shot on location in New York City, the film was inspired by the real-life Hell's Kitchen gang The Westies.


Terry Noonan (Penn) returns to Hell's Kitchen, New York after a ten-year absence. His childhood pal Jackie Flannery (Oldman) is involved in an Irish crime organization (based on The Westies) run by his brother, Frankie (Harris). Terry also rekindles an old flame with Jackie's sister, Kathleen (Wright).

Terry is actually working as an undercover cop. Kathleen is reluctant to have anything to do with him after being told by her brother, Frank, that Terry is now a member of his gang and has already killed two people.

Jackie is drinking in a bar one night when three members of a rival Italian gang enter. He ends up killing all three, feeling insulted that they are on his gang's territory. Frank is summoned to a meeting by the Italian mafia boss Borelli and is instructed to kill his brother "who has become a thorn in both their sides." Frank has told Jackie to lie in wait in case the meeting goes wrong. He only manages to avert a war by hugging the Italian leader outside the restaurant, in full view of his gang.

Frank arranges for Jackie to collect $25,000, telling him that the Italians are actually supporting them and this is a reward. Terry tags along as Jackie's secret backup. As they wait at Pier 84. Frank arrives with his top enforcer, Pat Nicholson. As a frantic Terry is trying to phone his police sergeant and undercover supervisor, Nick (Turturro), whom he mistakenly sent to the wrong location, Frank fatally shoots Jackie. The police finally arrive and Terry tells Nick that he is quitting as an undercover operative.

At Jackie's funeral, Terry tells Frank he was at Pier 84 and also hands Frank his badge. Hours later, while Kathleen is watching the St. Patrick's Day parade alone, Terry goes alone to the bar where Frank and his gang are waiting. In a deadly shootout, Frank and all of his men are killed. Terry is also shot, but his fate is not revealed.


  • Marco St. John as Jimmy Cavello
  • Mo Gaffney as Maureen
  • Deirdre O'Connell as Irene
  • Thomas G. Waites as Frankie's Man
  • Brian Burke as Frankie's Man
  • Michael Cumpsty as Frankie's Man
  • Michael Cunningham as Frankie's Man
  • Paul-Felix Montez as Pool Hall Manager


Box Office

The film was released on a limited basis on September 14, 1990. First-week box office totaled $179,927 (14 screens).

According to "The Numbers" web site, the film was in circulation a few weeks and appeared on 335 screens in its widest release. Total receipts were $1,911,542.

Ebert believed the difficulty State of Grace had at the box office was due to another film with the same theme being released the same week, Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas.

Critical response

State of Grace was generally well received by critics. Of the reviews collected from notable publications by popular review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an overall approval rating of 83%. Janet Maslin, film critic for The New York Times, wrote, "Mr. Joanou attempts to capture the sense of place that defines urban crime, and the ethnic and territorial distinctions that give it shape. He is successful much of the time here." Maslin praised Oldman and Harris, writing, "Jackie Flannery is played by the phenomenal Gary Oldman, who since Sid and Nancy has taken on a string of new accents and dramatic identities with stunning ease", and "Jackie's icy older brother ... is played by Ed Harris with an eeriness to match Mr. Oldman's."

Critic Vincent Leo praised Penn's performance, noting, "While Oldman gets the accolades for his energetic performance, it is really Penn's inner demons that provides the film with the right amount of conflict, always letting us be aware that fine lines are the difference between life and death, as well as right and wrong, out in the streets of New York. Is Penn doing the noble thing by taking down the criminals, or is he a rat bastard, disowning himself from the way of life and people who helped him along the way? It's the question that makes him sick to the pit of his stomach, and Penn shows it in his face with almost every scene."

Roger Ebert, film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times, described the film as being "confused in its values" but awarded it three stars out of four and lauded the work of Oldman: "Gary Oldman's performance in the movie is the best thing about it...What's best about State of Grace is what's unique to it - the twisted vision of the Oldman character, who lives in a world of evil and betrayal and has somehow thought himself around to the notion that he is doing the right thing."


The original soundtrack was released on October 1, 1990, by MCA. The CD has eighteen tracks, is 53:45 in length, and features a score composed, orchestrated and conducted by Ennio Morricone.

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