American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
"State of Grace" is not quite sure which is worse - murder, or yuppies moving into the neighborhood. That's one of its charms. The movie is so sincere and confused in its values that it mirrors the goofy loyalties and violent pathology of its characters. They're low-level Irish-American gangsters who operate in the Hell's Kitchen area of New York City, west of Times Square, and one measure of their success as gangsters is the fact that rising rents are forcing them out of the neighborhood.
The movie opens with a reunion. Terry (Sean Penn), who used to live in the neighborhood, has been on the road for a few years. Now he's back in town, and embracing his best friend Jackie (Gary Oldman) in one of the sleazy saloons where gangsters and winos seem to be the only customers.
Crime in this neighborhood is a family affair. The Irish gang is led by Jackie's older brother, Frankie (Ed Harris), who has moved to the suburbs and calls the shots from his middle-class house on a tree-lined street, far from the drug deals that pay his mortgage. The two brothers have a sister named Kathleen (Robin Wright), who has also tried to get out of the neighborhood - she works as a clerk in an uptown hotel. But she and Terry used to be in love, and so of course Fate is going to have a hand in what happens next.
Since a great deal of what happens in "State of Grace" depends on an important secret that it not revealed until the second half of the movie, I will have to tread gingerly around some of the details.