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Overall Rating

Awesome: 43.24%
Worth A Look48.65%
Average: 5.41%
Pretty Bad: 2.7%
Total Crap: 0%

4 reviews, 50 user ratings

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Donnie Brasco
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by MP Bartley

"You'd forgotten how good this was hadn't you?"
5 stars

You would think it'd be easy to sell a Mafia film starring Johnny Depp and Al Pacino. But when Donnie Brasco was released seven years ago, it kind of sank. It wasn't a major flop, but it hardly set the box office alight and was pretty much ignored when it came to the awards season. Maybe because it was directed by Mike Newell, the man behind 'Four Weddings and a Funeral', and he doesn't have quite the same appeal as either a Coppola or a Scorcese. A huge shame then, because Donnie Brasco is a minor and neglected gem.

Johnny Depp is the titular Donnie, a jeweler who soon comes to the attention of Mafia hood Lefty (Pacino) who sees something in Donnie and starts to take him into the family, with the ultimate intention of becoming a wiseguy. Lefty is a stooped, almost broken character, resigned to a life looking over his shoulder and forced to watch much more younger and brash hoods take superior positions in the family, such as Sonny Black (Michael Madsen). Donnie isn't quite who he seems however, he's in fact Joey Pistone an undercover FBI agent out to get as much evidence against the hoods as he can gather and jail as many as he can. The further he's taken in though, the more distant he grows from his family and the closer he grows to Lefty.

When it comes to Mafia movies it's easier to name any of the Godfathers or Goodfellas as the greats. 'Donnie Brasco' however, deservedly should be alongside them as it's as telling and as powerful as any of it's predecessors. Perhaps the reason that it gets overlooked is that it forgoes any romantic image and seeks to instead to be a more grimy and realistic look at the life of a hood. There's none of the romantic sweep or grand opera of a Coppola and they're certainly not as flash or as charming as Scorcese would have them. Instead Newell portrays them as little more than spoilt thugs lashing out when they can't get their way in a restaurant. And loyalty stretches as far as to whose word they believe first: yours or the guy ratting you out. Loyalty here is the fact that when they call for you it'll be your best friend that does the shooting.

There's little focus on the actual crimes that Sonny, Lefty and co are being investigated by Joe for. We all know or could guess as to what they're doing, so why should Newell go over old ground?
Instead he focuses upon the rat's nest of shadowy meetings and drinking sessions in seedy dives, where plans and betrayals are hatched. That's not to say Newell has crafted a film of all talk. A sequence in a Japanese restaurant where there's an argument over shoes, crackles with tension as much as the restaurant in 'The Godfather' when Michael first become baptised with blood.
And a night-time chat in a car between Lefty and Donnie is the movies equivalent of Michael giving Fredo a very special kiss.

So with incident a-plenty, there's also plenty for the actors to get their teeth into and they don't disappoint. When Depp got his Oscar nomination as a drunken pirate there were a few raised eyebrows and comments that there were a lot better roles that he should have been recognised for. 'Donnie Brasco' is one of them, as he takes what would normally be a fairly simple character and just runs with it and deepens it. As he schmoozes with the hoods he's captivatingly convincing, but equally at home as the blue-eyed FBI guy, steadily getting compromised. And as his home life disintegrates around him, there's uncomfortable contrasts to the happy life of Lefty and Depp smoothly lets out the angst and rage against all the wrong people. Depp has the unique quality of being able to take any character and colour and shade them beyond your first impressions.

And this was a role tailor made for Pacino. There's no "Hoo-hah!" shouting nonsense from him here, just a deeply ingrained, melancholic performance of a man who knows he's been wasting himself in a life that's ultimately going to literally waste him. When Pacino dials down a role and underplays it, that's when we see the real, raw talent of the man shining through. Seperately Depp and Pacino are majestic, but together they just take this already riveting drama up a notch. There's fine supporting acts too. Anne Heche is surprisingly good as Joey's long-suffering wife, but the show is nearly stolen by Madsen's vicious Sonny, just a shade below his 'Reservoir Dogs' psycho. He may be type-cast, but when has Madsen ever let you down? It's a snarling, rottweiler performance that practically explodes in the aforementioned restaurant scene, that also shows particularly fine playing by Depp.

As it doesn't strive for the epic tone of a 'Godfather', it runs to just over a couple of hours which perhaps is wrapping things up just too neatly. The film gives you the impression that the case takes place over a couple of months, but a final caption suggests Joey was actually there for a good couple of years. Perhaps a case of too much trimming by Newell. But ultimately, it ends on a morally ambiguous note as cold and ruthless as Fredo's doomed lake trip.

Maybe after the success of 'Pirates of the Caribbean' and Pacino's mini-revival in 'Insomnia', 'Donnie Brasco' will gain a more appreciative audience as it's been injustly ignored in the past. Depp and Pacino have rarely been better than they are here and the whole film reeks of class and authenticity. Anyone else who's going to ignore it from now on deserves to be sleeping with the fishes.

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originally posted: 05/22/04 00:21:04
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User Comments

9/13/17 morris campbell decent read the book instead 3 stars
8/29/08 Shaun Wallner Awesome storyline! 5 stars
12/09/07 SamanthaP johnny depp can play any roll he want's to so gooood! 5 stars
1/21/07 David A. Johnny Depp is too young and innocent-looking to play a tough guy. 2 stars
1/19/07 Sepi53 good mafia film! 4 stars
10/21/06 Indrid Cold Not bad, not bad. Really just the same old Mafia/police drama, though. 4 stars
6/03/06 millersxing I shit my pants laughing at Madsen dancing & at Pacino banging a parking meter. 3 stars
12/19/05 Bree Pacino is the shit. Depp is his toilet. 4 stars
9/03/05 ES A very Sopranos feel to it. Excellent characters 4 stars
11/15/04 R.W. Welch Impressive acting carries fact-based mob flick. 4 stars
8/02/04 Raf Milis Pacino is always good..but so is Depp. Great mafia movie. 5 stars
6/19/04 Denise Duspiva devistatingly good 5 stars
5/26/04 James Shun Great! 5 stars
5/22/04 Jack Sommersby Pacino is superb, but Depp is atypically bland and matertial is overly familiar. 2 stars
2/20/04 Agent Sands Fantastic cast and a great script. One awesome mafia movie. 5 stars
9/20/03 Nicole Very good - but kind of sad 4 stars
5/12/03 Jack Bourbon Dumb but decent. 4 stars
5/04/03 sleepy good stuff...wished it had shown more of Depp and Heche together...they had good chemistry 5 stars
1/24/03 hkgg An outstanding film. 5 stars
7/27/02 sdjfsdkjf christ pacino and depp are good together. 4 stars
7/04/02 KMG Pacino and Depp have the greatest chemistry I have seen in years! 5 stars
4/14/02 Shrike Pacino's 2nd best 90's effort after Carlitos Way 4 stars
2/17/02 ACBCorp Depp - superb , Pacino - great, movie - moving... open-your-eyes-US-ostriches-type-movie 4 stars
11/14/01 Zizzerzazzerzuzz I thought Pacino gave up actually ACTING years ago, but he's truly excellent here. 4 stars
10/30/01 L Santini Loved this movie - Love Al! 5 stars
10/02/01 Henry Ginsberg Jonny Depp definately should have won an oscar for his performance in this film. 5 stars
7/15/01 TLsmooth Depp is the best actor on the face of the earth. 5 stars
6/07/01 Rampage it was awesome, not as bad as The Sopranos 4 stars
2/17/01 Jake nothing special here. I like Depp better when he's not playing himself. 3 stars
8/09/00 kdave This was a good movie. Pacino delivers, and a lot of story depth if you pay attention. 4 stars
5/23/00 just call me bad asss pacino is brilliant .. depp works hard... all the mob movie cliche's paid their due. 4 stars
4/01/00 Arnaldo Cruz One of the best dramatic ganster movies ever.Pacino is SUPERB!!!!! 5 stars
10/30/99 Bozo its been done before and much better, but liked seeing Depp & Al together 3 stars
6/15/99 Dylan Quite simply one of the best gangster movies ever 5 stars
6/10/99 Homer J. Simpson This was a good movie,Pacino and depp played their parts perfectly 5 stars
5/10/99 Beachlovr9 Great gansta flick 5 stars
2/23/99 superdan What, are you Kidding Me>? fuckin fugedaboudit.... 5 stars
12/29/98 Schizofrenic The best mobster movie ever! 4 stars
11/22/98 little jerry Very good.Check out director's other true crime films,BAD BLOOD & DANCE WITH A STRANGER. 4 stars
11/17/98 Jules Great characters! 4 stars
11/12/98 Lord Of The Dunce Supoib. Pacino does this role so well. Depp doesn't suck. 5 stars
11/10/98 Hugh Jass Great movie. Depp rules. 4 stars
9/24/98 Maegs Outstanding performance by Depp, and Pacino nearly broke my heart. 4 stars
9/17/98 cheryl_ann its nice to see my family up on the big screen again. oh, depp was decent for once. 4 stars
9/07/98 BBReBozo I won't say it. I won't. I... aww fuggit: Fugidaboudit, this movie rocks. 5 stars
8/24/98 The Capital City Goofball Not your average gangster (not gangsta) film. Depp was great. 4 stars
8/23/98 Mister Whoopee Pacino is awesome and Depp just get's better 4 stars
8/21/98 Pete I really enjoyed it. Pacino is great as usual. Now I forgive Johnny for 21 Jump St. 4 stars
8/17/98 Johny good show 4 stars
8/16/98 {{{OZ}}} Johnny Depp is class. Pacino is the essential gangster. This film rocks. 5 stars
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  28-Feb-1997 (R)
  DVD: 08-May-2007



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