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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 Rob Gonsalves

"Subtle and riveting; Pacino and Depp at their best."
5 stars

In his recent films, dating back to his undeniably funny turn in 'Dick Tracy,' Al Pacino has become a compulsive ham -- one step away from being a self-parody that his fans laugh at affectionately, as we do now with Dennis Hopper or Jack Nicholson.

A friend of mine loves to parody Pacino ripping his glasses off in City Hall and bellowing "Thass all I wanna know!" In that movie, and also in Heat and even in Scent of a Woman, Pacino's motto seemed to be "The louder the better."

But he's a great actor, and he still has plenty of surprises left in him. In Donnie Brasco, a superbly crafted true-life mobster film, Pacino plays a shabby, aging gangster named Lefty Ruggerio, and he gives a performance that nearly erases our memory of his awful grandstanding in Heat and City Hall. Pacino is quiet here, exhausted and bitter -- he turns Lefty into a wiseguy version of Willy Loman. There's deep pathos in his portrait of a mobster who never made it.

Pacino would make Donnie Brasco worth a look even if it were a dud, but it isn't. The title character, whose real name is Joseph Pistone, is an FBI agent who infiltrates a New York crime family by getting close to Lefty. Johnny Depp, who plays Pistone, turns in a brilliant poker-faced performance. For most of the movie, the undercover Pistone must keep his expression perfectly blank (he can't react with horror to the sudden bursts of violence or he'll give himself away), and yet Depp always lets us know what Pistone is thinking. He does this with no voice-over narration and a bare minimum of dialogue.

With a quieter Pacino and the deft silent actor Depp, Donnie Brasco is free to be subtle. Director Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral) and the great screenwriter Paul Attanasio (Quiz Show) pay as much attention to emotional details as to the clockwork details of mob life. When Pistone visits his wife Maggie (Anne Heche), who's always in the dark about what he's doing, the camera lingers on Pistone putting away cereal boxes. A wonderful touch: it dramatizes how diligently Pistone must organize his dual life. Mob over there, family over here.

Many reviewers have singled out the scene in which Pistone refuses to remove his shoes in a Japanese restaurant (his tape recorder is in his boot). That's a terrific bit, but what stayed with me were the scenes between Pistone and his new friend. Lefty, whose own son is a junkie, seems to cling to Pistone as the son he should have had. Pistone doesn't know how to react to Lefty's fierce love for him, and for me the best moment in the film is when Lefty confronts Pistone with evidence that seems to blow his cover. He takes out his gun and scares Pistone with it, but not by aiming it at him.

'Donnie Brasco' ends with two eloquently silent bits from Pacino and Depp, after the FBI closes in on the mob family. Lefty puts his valuables in a drawer and goes to meet his fate, while Pistone accepts a medal and a check, his expression frozen and stoic. What are these men thinking? We can spend hours filling in the blanks left by this great and saddening movie.

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originally posted: 01/12/07 14:12:38
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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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