16 November 2000 | Dodger-9
One of Oldman's best
You don't need to be a film genius to realise the gangster thriller is as old as cinema itself, although by the Seventies, it was looking a little ragged around the edges.
The Godfather revitalised the genre and then things grew quiet again in the land of wise talking hoods and their molls.
Hollywood has always been a place where trends mean a host of movies with the same theme all opening within a few months of each other. After body swap comedies and underwater thrillers in the late Eighties, the turn of the Nineties saw the turn of the post modern gangster drama.
So we had a third helping of The Godfather, Goodfellas, Billy Bathgate, Mobsters, the sublime Miller's Crossing and one of the best of the bunch - State of Grace.
The drama centres on a band of low-level Irish-American hoods who operate in the Hell's Kitchen area of New York City. Rising rents are forcing them out of the neighbourhood, so needless to say, yuppies are not their favourite breed.
Sean Penn is Terry Noonan, a New York cop who used to live in the area, and has been on the road for a few years.
Now he's back and glad to see his old mate Jackie Flannery (Gary Oldman). But inflitrating his band of ne'er do wells soon leads to unbearable dramatic tension and a finale which will leave you hooked.
While Sean has always been an okay actor, Gary blows him off the screen as Flannery, the Irish American gangster who keeps severed hands in his fridge so he can use the fingerprints on his firearms.
Before Oldman started making big budget confections such as Lost in Space, The Fifth Element and Air Force One, he really proved himself in roles such as this.
A self-confessed alcoholic, he never let the booze get in the way of delivering a knockout performance - although by the time he made the dreadful Scarlet Letter, Gary decided to give the sauce a rest and concentrate on his acting.
One of the reasons that Oldman is one of the most sought after actors in the world is his utterly manic style mixed with a conviction that can chill you to the bone.
Although his performance here isn't quite as focused as corrupt DEA officer, Norman Stansfield in Leon, there's still enough menace in Flannery to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand to attention.
For example: There's a scene in which Flannery takes Noonan along one night when he burns down a construction office on a site that will soon be a yuppie apartment building. Oldman's character decides to make arson fun by pouring the petrol between himself and the door - and then see if he can run through it without killing himself.
Yes, Noonan really is that unhinged but while some actors would have used such pyrotechnics as a dramatic crutch, Gary makes you believe the scene was shot for real.
The supporting cast is also pretty good. Ed Harris has always been excellent value for money in The Abyss and The Rock. Here he is on fine form as the mob leader, and Jackie's brother, Frankie, who attempts to reign in his errant sibling. While the only woman in the film, Robin Wright, is wasted as the love interest, don't worry girls. This is not just a film for the lads.
Ennio Morricone's haunting score perfectly accentuates Phil Joanou's direction and as the title suggests, there is a state of grace to the drama which makes it one of the most under rated big screen gems of the last decade.
Written by Dennis McIntyre (his only screenplay sadly) and photographed by the legendary Jordan Cronenweth of Blade Runner fame, this dark fairytale of New York will haunt many for weeks to come.