After ten years out of town, Boston cop Terry Noonan returns to his old West Side Manhattan neighborhood, to an area known as Hell’s Kitchen that is run by the savage Irish mafia known as the Westies. Since the friends of his youth now belong to the notorious gang, Noonan goes undercover to sever completely the stranglehold these thugs have noosed around the old neighborhood. Noonan gradually works his way back into the lives of his old Irish cronies, seeking to expose the Italian mafia as well, that is, the Gambino crime family, with whom the Westies have formed an uneasy alliance.
The Westies, though, are wild men of violence, unreliable “cowboys” so to speak. Their leader is Frankie, a cold blooded killer who uses his younger alcoholic, psychotic brother, Jackie, as his enforcer. As one of them says, “We drink. We shoot people. We’re not tough; we’re just crazy.”
Once Noonan infiltrates the gang and gains their confidence, the remainder of the movie basically is about the consequences of an attempt to form a new unity between the Irish and Italian gangsters. Frankie wants peace so badly with the Italians that he is willing to murder for it. Discovering that one of his men owes the Italians some money but has reneged, he is instructed by the Italians to murder the man. Frankie commits the murder, but blames the Italians to protect himself. Jackie doesn’t take too kindly to what has transpired and so kills three of the Italians. The Italians insist that Frankie kill his own brother, which he does.
Noonan, torn between loyalty to his friends and loyalty to his involvement as an undercover policeman, finds himself in a quandary. Although the gang’s deranged sensibilities sicken him, turning them in appalls him. Feeling it his duty to end all this nonsense, he gives his badge to Frankie at Jackie’s funeral, announcing his intention to kill him. Later, with more blood flying across the screen in slow motion, Noonan kills every last Irish gangster.
Every minute of STATE OF GRACE denies a fundamental truth that men have been called and should make every effort to live in peace. However, the characters in the movie show no inclination at all toward that kind of attitude. In fact, the movie is so totally wrapped up in immoral attitudes, deception and wrongful behavior, its effect is overwhelmingly depressing, not entertaining.
Too often in today’s films, instead of heroes we have protagonists who are professional criminals, not judged by their virtue or pathetic lack thereof but by how discreetly and ruthlessly they achieve their ambitions. Take Noonan for instance. Near the brutal and bloated allegorical ending, he says that by returning to his old New York City neighborhood as an undercover cop, he had hoped to achieve a state of religious grace. Instead, Noonan loathes himself for ratting on former friends who are now professional crooks.
Director Phil Joanou has created a film which sucks the viewer into a world of murder and extreme violence. He simply must be kidding to say he concentrated on going for the “emotional jugular” rather than violence. Frankie, particularly, is a compulsively violent maniac who routinely strong-arms old people and shoots others who annoy him.
Cursing, fighting and stumbling through bars in a state of glamorous dishevelment, these live-for-the-moment, boozing-and-brawling characters are rancorous scuzzballs caught in a web of drunkenness, double-cross, nudity, revenge, greed, and deceit. The atmosphere is grim, and in a script that clunks along for over two hours, we are also hammered with at least 275 obscenities, enough to send one screaming to the theater exit doors.
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Approximately 275 obscenities and 10 profanities; graphically lurid murder, violence and fratricide; frontal female nudity, fornication, prostitution and explicit sexual scenes; drunkenness, revenge and deceit.