Title: Donnie Brasco (1997)
Director: Mike Newell
Stars: Johnny Depp, Al Pacino, Michael Madsen, Bruno Kirby & James Russo
Joseph D. Pistone (Depp) is an FBI agent who is tasked with infiltrating a mafia family in 1970s New York. He poses as Donnie Brasco, a ‘connected guy’ who deals with stolen jewellery. After hanging out in the local bar, he attracts the attention of Lefty (Pacino), who takes Donnie under his wing. Lefty vouches for Donnie, which enables him to infiltrate even further into the inner circle of the mobsters. As his status grows, so do the seriousness of the crimes he must partake in. They start off by moving stolen goods and vending machines, but things quickly escalate to include beatings and murders. As he gets deeper and deeper, his stress levels begin to rise accordingly and his long suffering wife is beginning to lose interest in their marriage. Meanwhile he has developed quite a close bond with Lefty and he will find it very difficult to do his duty when the time comes.
Johnny Depp, who is a very capable actor when he is playing it serious, has rightly been lambasted for churning out some woeful turkeys over the last five years or so. His star has really fallen since his glory days of the mid 2000s. Back in 1997 he pulled out a great performance for the title role of this picture. He met with the real Joseph Pistone to get the character down and it really paid off.
Al Pacino gives the best performance of the movie as the ageing hitman with twenty-six murders under his belt. His mannerisms and little character touches are superb and he also has some really funny moments which lighten up the mood when it gets too serious. Michael Madsen is believable as the physically imposing Sonny Black and he has called it his favourite role in a film he has done. Bruno Kirby and James Russo bring typically solid work to their respective parts.
Donnie Brasco was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay at the Oscars and it is easy to see why. It is a real cracker as it was based on actual FBI tape recordings, which gave it a level of insight and realism that other scripts lack. Some of the film’s dialogue is very memorable, especially ‘fugazi’ (fake) and ‘fuhgeddaboutit’, which is used copiously by most of the main characters. The score is also top-notch and deserved an Oscar nod, at least in my opinion.
Donnie Brasco is twenty years old this year and it continues to live on as a very worthy entry in the gangster genre.