State of confusion muddles 'State of Grace'


The mob films continue. The latest is "State of Grace," in which the Irish-Americans are the hoods.

The film is based on the lives of the Westies, an Irish gang that operated a few years back and, for a time, terrified the West Side of New York.

They don't so much terrify as befuddle in the film. The movie, done in very naturalistic style by director Phil Joanou, is more muddled than entertaining. Usually, the basics of a mob plot are enough to carry it along, compensate for bad sound and dense dialogue, but not here. The basics are there, but they are of little value through much of the film. "State of Grace" only begins to take form when it is almost ended, and that is way too late.

Done in New York, the film presents Gary Oldman and Ed Harris as brothers. One is able to kill as easily as the other, and when the older brother, Frankie (Harris), begins to have dealings with the Sicilians, Jackie (Oldman) is not amused. That's understandable. He is also a psychopath.

Sean Penn appears as a former member of the gang. He says he has been away, doing things, living in other states, but you do begin to wonder about him.

Before he had departed, he had been intimate with Kathleen (Robin White), sister to Frankie and Jackie. Home again, he rekindles that romance, but the association is never really believable because White looks out of place in the film. The way she looks, she should be living on the Upper East Side.

John Turturro, who seems to be in just about every mob film around, is Nick, someone Terry (Penn) blows away before the film is very old.

The killings are endless and every bit as brutal as those in "GoodFellas."

"State of Grace" includes an excellent performance by Oldman. You may not be able to understand much of what he says here, but there is no doubt that he is what he pretends to be.

"State of Grace" ** Life among the Westies, a group of Irish-American hoods who terrorized the West Side of New York a few years back.

CAST: Sean Penn, Ed Harris, Gary Oldman, Robin Wright, John Turturro, Burgess Meredith

DIRECTOR: Phil Joanou

RATING: R (language, violence, nudity)

RUNNING TIME: 130 minutes

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