King of Hell’s Kitchen
Released in the same year as Scorsese’s gangster masterpiece, Goodfellas, and Abel Ferrara’s striking King of New York, the underrated gem State of Grace largely went overlooked.Those familiar with either of those heavyweights – and indeed the genre in general – will probably find State of Grace largely following a well-trodden path of violent gang turf rivalry, in-fighting and betrayal, but Phil Joanou’s sophomore directorial feature still has a hell of a lot going for it, making the most of its excellent composite parts and finding originality in individual elements even if not in the whole. Whilst Joanou probably should be given some credit for turning out such a strong second feature, he got pretty lucky with the ingredients for the mix, with U2 unavailable to do the soundtrack and instead magician Ennio Morricone stepping in to deliver a haunting score that provides a wonderful backbone for the entire production. Similarly Joanou got lucky with his cinematographer, getting Jordan Cronenweth – the guy who lensed Blade Runner no less – to capture some stunning shots. As a result, the look and sound of the piece is consistently a cut above, taking the film a good way towards being a masterpiece.The cast is also to die for, with Ed Harris bringing steely cold resolve to his role as the eldest brother in an Irish crime family on the cusp or making a landmark deal with the neighbouring Italian mob bosses and Gary Oldman providing an early career-high performance as the wild younger brother. Even Sean Penn, the childhood friend returning to take his place amidst the chaos, is on strong form, bringing a surprising amount of melancholy to the role, and there some star-studded support. Despite all of this, State of Grace never quite amounts to the sum of its parts, riding the cusp of being almost as great as Goodfellas or as fresh as King of New York, but falling short of a masterpiece, instead providing some exceptional scenes – a tense slo-mo standoff and a superb slo-mo finale remain the most memorable – and some great performances, with that great score and striking cinematography supporting you through the rest. It’s rightly gone on to become something of a cult classic and is well worth checking out.
Picture QualityState of Grace hits UK shores thanks to Second Sight, who deliver a solid Region B-locked disc that promotes the movie with a 1080p/AVC-encoded video presentation in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 widescreen. There are plenty of problems with this rendition – from variable softness to some edge enhancement and inconsistent detail – but all things considered, it’s a surprisingly pleasant watch with plenty of standout sequences (often benefiting from the impressive cinematography).
Not demo quality, it’s a very natural-looking presentation which makes the most of the striking cinematography.
Background textures bring walls and doors to life, whilst close-ups reveal skin textures and facial details, whilst highlighting blood, sweat and tears. Clothing weaves are finely distinguished, and the colour scheme, although not exacting popping with vivid, vibrant tones, at least enjoys some richer browns and greys, set against fairly solid blacks which do present some nice night street sequences basked in hazy mist and moonlight (again, it’s no surprise to find that the DOP who lensed Blade Runner was also behind the cinematography here).
As stated, it’s not consistent, and the closer you look, the more you can begin to question just how pasty some of the facial shots are, or whether or not the edges around some of the heads look artificially augmented, whilst a fluctuating and somewhat temperamental grain level only further clouds the issue. But it’s still a generally enjoyable experience which, whilst it never coming close to demo quality, probably looks the best the film has ever looked and – given that this is the third Blu-ray release the film has seen, and more than likely the last – probably the best shape you’ll ever find it in.
Sound QualityThe accompanying DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track prioritises the dialogue, gunshots and outstanding score, a clever tactic as they remain the high points in the feature, with the snappy spoken words remaining clear and coherent throughout – whether mumbled or yelled – and clinically disseminated from across the fronts and centre channels, whilst the larger effects get bounced around the surrounds and even carry with them a little LFE weight. Gunshots aren’t as good as they sound they days but they still offer up some penetrating reverberation that perforate the mix.
Undoubtedly the single best aspect of the audio – and arguably one of the best aspects of the film – is the elegiac score by Ennio Morricone.
Haunting, soulful and sorrowful, grandmaster Morricone brings his heavyweight talents to play here to great effect with another memorable score. Much like the cinematography, Morricone’s work is a cut above what you would have otherwise expected for this feature, affording the film some welcome emotional nuance and understated gravitas.
ExtrasAlthough losing out on the Audio Commentary from Twilight Time’s Region Free US counterpart, we do get a strong 20 minute “Directing a Bunch of Gangsters – Making State of Grace” Interview with Director Phil Joanou who practically packs a commentary’s worth of information into his high-speed-delivery effort. The brief Ed Harris on State of Grace Interview is a bit of an afterthought at just 5 minutes in length, but it’s still nice to hear from the old boy.
Not quite a masterpiece, State of Grace is still an undeniably underrated gem.
This solid Region B-locked UK Blu-ray promotes strong video and even better audio, as well as a couple of nice exclusive extras. Whilst it's far from a stunning remastered collector's edition, it's about the best fans of this film could have hoped for and, with any luck, will introduce plenty of newcomers to this little gem. Recommended.
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