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Mob Mentality

State of Grace (1990)
Directed by:  Phil Joanou
Written by:  Dennis McIntyre
Starring: Sean Penn (as Terry Noonan), Ed Harris (as Frankie Flannery), Gary Oldman (as Jackie Flannery), Robin Wright (as Kathleen Flannery)

Okay, sooo...this is a movie about the Irish mob in New York's Hell's Kitchen.  I feel like this is one of those good films that got overlooked due to its release date. It was released in 1990, the same year another little mafia movie by the name of GoodFellas came out.  It's just very underrated, and it's too bad it got overshadowed.

Here's a quick and dirty synopsis of the plot:  Terry Noonan (Penn) is an undercover cop who goes back home to Hell's Kitchen after a ten year absence in order to infiltrate the Irish mob.  Here's the thing, though:  the mob is now run by Frankie Flannery (Harris), who just happens to be Terry's best friend Jackie's (Oldman) big brother.  Jackie is currently working as one of Frankie's enforcers...and he's also got a few screws loose.  Oh yeah, and Frankie and Jackie's sister Kate (Wright, before she became Wright Penn) is Terry's ex-girlfriend, who managed to get herself out of Hell's Kitchen and now lives uptown.  Got all that?  Basically, Terry's working to put his old friends behind bars, which of course makes him emotionally conflicted.

Sean Penn does a fantastic job of playing a guy who's torn between loyalty to his friends (his family, really) and loyalty to his job.  His performance is top-notch.  I've always liked him as an actor, but I honestly haven't seen that many of his movies. I still need to watch Milk. I loved him in Mystic River.

Ed Harris does a good bad guy. Frankie's a character with no remorse. I mean, (**Spoiler Alert**) what kind of person kills his own brother in cold blood just to keep a business relationship with the Italian mafia intact?  This guy's a grade-A asshole.  Apparently, Bill Pullman was originally cast as Frankie; I cannot even imagine what that would have been like...not as good, for sure.

Robin Wright (Penn) was good, but not great, and I hate to say that because I like her.  She just doesn't have a lot to do. Kate flits back-and-forth between 1) worrying about her brother (Jackie, not Frankie...she pretty much hates him), 2) being upset that Terry is back working for the mob (But that doesn't stop her from having sex with him. Of course not.), and 3) being mad that Terry confided to her his secret that he's really a cop.  By the way, I think this is the movie where Robin Wright Penn and Sean Penn first met...I guess she'll be Robin Wright again soon if they ever actually get divorced. They keep changing their minds...one day they're divorcing, the next day they're not. I can't keep track.  Make a decision, people!

Gary Oldman steals every single scene he's in as Jackie Flannery (and that's saying a lot when you're acting opposite the likes of Sean Penn).  Jackie is nuts -- I'm talking f*cking crazy -- but in a weirdly endearing way.  Oldman doesn't hold back at all in the role...another actor might have dialed down the crazy just a bit, but I'm glad Oldman chose not to.  Jackie's basically a sweet guy, but he operates with a hair-trigger, so he's easily set off...he wouldn't have been the same character if Oldman had shown restraint.

There are also a couple of minor (but still great) performances by John Turturro and a very young looking John C. Reilly.

Overall, I'd recommend State of Grace if you're looking for an underrated mob movie that's not such an obvious choice.