Twenty-five years ago today, a gangster film of angry grit and soiled poetry opened to generally positive reviews that praised a top-notch cast (Sean Penn, Ed Harris, Robin Wright and especially firecracker-hot Gary Oldman), lauded an amazing capture of the Hell Kitchen’s milieu (i.e., Irish Westies Gang turf), and saluted the efforts of screenwriter Dennis McIntyre (who died seven months before the film opened) and director Phil Joanou, celebrated then for the innovative concert film U2: Rattle and Hum. But State of Grace (1990), now on Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray, had a couple of big strikes against it: 1) its studio Orion Pictures was strapped for cash after a run of poorly received titles (even the arrivals of megahits Dances with Wolves two months later and The Silence of the Lambs five months later couldn’t offset Orion’s spread-sheet balance); and 2) the mob film that opened the following week: Martin Scorsese’s GoodFellas, which drew all the gangland oxygen out of the marketplace. It took years of cable and home video exposure for audiences to embrace State of Grace as the standout thriller it is, an admixture of 1930s Warner Bros. gang pictures, contemporary urban angst and tribal resistance to gentrification that drew white heat from Oldman’s Jackie Flannery, an old-school-hood-in-new-wolf’s-clothing whose flameout is inevitable. And when time caught up with the movie, fans could savor other cool contributions from a supporting cast of rising stars (John Turturro, John C. Reilly) and seasoned veterans (Burgess Meredith, film-debuting Joe Viterelli), cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth (bringing a ravaged gleam to this saga’s New York location filming with the same skills he applied to Altered States and Blade Runner) and composer Ennio Morricone, evoking both clannish loyalty and romantic desperation in his haunting score. It remains a cherished project for Joanou, who reflects with awe and candor in the Blu-ray’s Audio Commentary with Twilight Time’s Nick Redman about a movie representing a high point in his career and a prime showcase for a slew of goodfella artists at the top of their game.
Through decades of plays and films, Frank D. Gilroy articulately wrote of lost souls in search of healing and broken connections in need of patching. The scribe and moviemaker, who passed away this weekend, is best known for The Subject Was Roses, which captured the 1965 Pulitzer Prize, Tony Award and New York Drama Critics Circle Award as Best Play and grabbed audiences with its aching and tender dissection of a family whose loving bonds were frayed to near-extinction but not totally lost on the way to understanding and acceptance. His exceptional gifts for establishing lyrical ambience and creating complex characters is also shared by his talented sons Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton) and Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler). He set the stage for indelible performances by Patricia Neal, Jack Albertson and Martin Sheen in The Subject Was Roses (1968), Shirley MacLaine in Desperate Characters (1971) – and brought out unexplored depths in two Hollywood giants, Elizabeth Taylor and Warren Beatty, in director George Stevens’ final film The Only Game in Town (1970), a haunting look at two Las Vegas losers, an aging showgirl and a gambling-addicted musician, whose chance romance can be a way out of their empty lives if they can make a leap of faith. Available on Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray, it is a sunset song of rare feeling crafted by singular artists, with Gilroy’s off-Broadway play and screenplay adaptation as its basis of orchestration. Look for another unique Gilroy story that he wrote, produced and directed – the Charles Bronson/Jill Ireland Western tall tale From Noon Till Three (1976) – to arrive on TT Blu-ray next year. Its subject is the stuff of legend.