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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » State of Grace
State of Grace
MGM // R // December 3, 2002
List Price: $14.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Aaron Beierle | posted November 27, 2002 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:

"State of Grace" is an unfairly overlooked (maybe due to the fact that the now defunct Orion was responsible for the release and "Goodfellas" was released the same year) 1990 gangster drama from director Phil Joanou, who has gained more fame for his work with rock band U2. This film stars Sean Penn as Terry, a drifter who has recently returned to his old neighborhood, only to get pulled back into trouble again - most notably by old friend Jackie (Gary Oldman), whose brother Frankie (Ed Harris) is the leader of an Irish gang.

While it's difficult to go further without spoiling some details of the plot, Terry gets drawn further into the world of the gang, while also trying to start a romance with Kathleen (Robin Wright Penn), the sister of Jackie and Frankie. When Terry tries to investigate the death of his childhood friend, the gang gets suspicious of his recent past and what he's been up to before returning so suddenly.

"State of Grace" doesn't contain a story that many haven't seen before in some form or another, but it's the film's acting that really takes the material further. Ed Harris offers a commanding performance as the head of the gang, while this is one of Penn's more subtle and effective performances. Oldman is over-the-top, but more controlled than he usually is. John C. Reilly and John Tuturro are also excellent, as is Robin Wright Penn as Terry's love interest.

There's certainly other elements to praise, as well: Joanou's direction is terrific, while cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth's work effectively gives the film a gritty and realistic feel. Some moments in the middle could be trimmed to push the pace a little harder, but this is a minor complaint. Although it's probably to be expected from the genre, this is definitely a violent film - so those offended or troubled by that should probably stay away.


The DVD

VIDEO: "State of Grace" is presented by MGM Home Video in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The picture quality is generally standard; while no major concerns are present, there's also nothing particularly remarkable about it. The film's cinematography by Jordan Cronenweth (father of "K-19" cinematographer Jeff) provides great atmosphere and involving imagery, but sharpness and detail are a bit inconsistent, as while some of the brighter outdoor scenes look crisp and bright, some of the dimly-lit/smoky interiors seem a bit soft and lacking in detail.

On a positive note, the print seemed unexpectedly clean, with very little in the way of apparent print wear. Aside from a couple of minor specks, no marks, scratches or other issues were apparent. Edge enhancement was also kept to a minimum, while only a few tiny instances of artifacts were noticed. The film's very subdued color palette was usually well-rendered, with no smearing or other faults. A nice - if not exceptional - transfer.

SOUND: Surprisingly, "State of Grace" is presented by MGM in Dolby Digital 5.1. This is certainly a remix of the original audio track, but it's a bit surprising that such a low-key title got this treatment. Still, while it's nice to hear the score slightly reinforced by the rear speakers, there's really nothing else out of the ordinary going on here. Almost completely dialogue-driven, there's not even really much in the way of subtle ambience.

EXTRAS: Just the trailer, unfortunately.

Final Thoughts: The film deserves a better DVD, but the film itself is powerful, tense and well-acted, while the DVD manages respectable audio/video quality. The price - under $14.99 at most stores - is also right. While the film hardly did any business in the theater (just over $1m), hopefully it'll gain a bigger audience on DVD.

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