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Yes, I am going to make the bold claim that this is his best work. "Are
you talking about the same Al Pacino that did Scarface, Heat, AND the
Godfather movies" you ask. Yes, yes, and let me explain myself. First
of all, I want to add that I LOVE Pacino's work. He has such a
commanding presence on screen and nobody in cinematic history can
scream as well as him (though Gene Hackman is damn good). He can scare
the hell out of you with just one crazed look in his eye and he never
gives a flat performance (well, except in Revolution).
Having said that, I think Pacino is incredible in this flick because his character is so understated. While his work often consists of playing flamboyant, over-the-top, and almost cartoonish figures(especially in Scarface and The Devil's Advocate), this film is a change of pace for him. Sure, he's still playing a mobster, but he's not as psychotic as usual, and for once, you get to see the inner struggles of a crook who deep down has a heart of gold (despite all of the murders). Pacino is perfect as Lefty, an aging crimical who wants out of the mob lifestyle, but doesn't know how to do it. Though you see the fast and fun world of mobsters in flicks like Goodfellas, this film gives you a sense that the mob life isn't that glamorous.
Along with Pacino's acting, Johnny Depp is delectable as Joe Pistone (Donnie Brasco) because you can see his inner torment as well. He knows that he's been assigned to infiltrate the New York mob scene, but he develops such a close bond with Lefty that it's almost hard to bring him down. A very real, human relationship permeates between the two that is very moving. I like how the characters are always joking about being a "wise guy," as it provides some light chuckles, and it also shows that in order to live this lifestyle, you've gotta talk tough and act tough (as if I would know what that's like).
The supporting cast is particularly noteworthy. Bruno Kirby plays a great weasel, Anne Heche is wonderful as Pistone's neurotic wife (you can understand her suffering, what with being married to an FBI special agent) and Michael Madsen is reliable, once again, as a mobster (honestly, does this guy do anything besides gangster or sci-fi flicks?). Every time I watch this movie I am breathless afterwards. The acting is wonderful, the music is superb, and frankly, I can't believe this stuff actually happened. Then again, I haven't read the book, so I don't know how much of it is true.
Overall, this movie gets 10 out of 10. I'm shocked it doesn't get more recognition, especially with such prolific actors as Pacino and Depp leading the way. This is a different kind of mob movie, as it shows a more somber side to this way of life, and I recommend it unequivocally.
In the late 1970's, FBI agent Joe Pistone poses as jewel expert Donnie
Brasco to win the trust of ageing mob middleman Lefty Ruggiero. As time
passes Donnie gets tighter and tighter into the mob, rising up when boss
Sonny Black gets bumped up. While Donnie puts his life at risk, his real
life crumbles as he never sees his wife or children. As he moves upwards,
his friend Lefty is bypassed time and time again. As Donnie gets deeper,
the FBI start to worry and want to extract him - something that cannot be
done without exposing himself and condemning Lefty to death.
Now that Pirates of the Caribean has made him a bankable star as well as a good actor I decided to dig out some of my old Depp videos and watch them. I have been a Depp fan since the mid-90's when I saw Arizona Dream, Ed Wood and Don Juan all in a period of 6 months -I realised then that this was not only a very talented guy but also one who seemed happy to do whatever interested him rather than whatever was going to make money. This film is in a well known and fairly reliable genre - the Italian American gangster movie but has the strength that it is an engaging true story. The plot follows Joe as he gets in deeper, is suspected, gets involved in battles between bosses and eventually starts to lose himself and forget what side he is actually on. Even though this is a true story, it still basically goes where we expect mob films to go, but it manages to rise above the clichés by having some very good characters and emotional themes.
The whole gangster thing works and is gripping, but it is the relationship dynamics between Joe and Lefty that made it more interesting. The element of going `native' when undercover has been done plenty of times, but it is the combination of this being fact and Depp's great performance that makes it work well here; we feel for Joe a great deal. On the flipside the film also allows us to feel for the mob, or at least one of them. The majority of the mobsters are the usual stereotypes but Lefty is written with a great deal of sympathy - he is a middleman, taking the risks, doing the dirt but always passed over and having to beg money to keep his bosses happy. These are tragic characters and the film is not the slightly glamorous gangster lifestyle that Pacino has experienced in his Godfather roles. These two characters are well written and it is their subplots that makes the film better than the central plot (which itself is also very good).
Depp is good and his performance is solid even if it doesn't really rank up their with his best - he lacks his usual flair but he gives the material it's dues. Pacino is of course, wonderful. His character is a far cry from his Godfather work and he manages to bring such pathos to Lefty that it is impossible not to feel for him. The support cast may not have as much in the way of character but they all do well in their roles. Madsen, Kirby, Ivanek, Heche, Miano and others all give good support, but it is Pacino and Depp's film - which is a good thing.
Overall, the fact that this is a true story makes it more interesting but, while I was watching it I wasn't really thinking about it and was just enjoying the gangster film itself. The basic story is a well worn one but is still delivery well by Newell (who was a very unusual choice for director), but it is the emotion threads involving Joe and Lefty that make the film much more than just another gangster film.
For some reason a Johnny Depp movie is always interesting. Whether it
is a biopic about Ed Wood, a dark fairy tale about a man with scissors
instead of hands, a movie about the greatest lover the world has ever
known or a adventurous story about pirates, Depp's performance alone
makes it worth seeing. Here he plays FBI-agent Joe Pistone who goes
undercover using the name Donnie Brasco. He becomes a wiseguy with the
help of Lefty (Al Pacino), who is sort of a loser wiseguy who
desperately needs to be a mentor because most of his mafia family
members look down on him. Donnie comes as a gift from heaven and it
does not take long before Lefty trusts Donnie completely. The problem
for FBI-agent Donnie is that he's starting to like Lefty as well.
The movie is a gangster movie but has its focus on the relationship between Lefty and Donnie and sometimes on other relationships. Donnie, or Joe, is married to Maggie (Anne Heche) who he hardly sees. He can not exactly tell her what he is doing and sometimes stays away for a couple of weeks. She pretends she is a widow to deal with it. We also learn about the relationships in the mafia family, including new boss Sonny (Michael Madsen).
The fact that this movie is more about the people and their relationships than about the events is a good thing. Sure movies like 'Goodfellas' are terrific but to see something a little different from time to time is nice as well. If you make a movie about people and their emotions you need to have some good performers to make the scenes believable. I already mentioned Depp but of course we have Pacino here as well. His Lefty is a memorable character and it is Pacino who makes sure that happens, but the fact that Depp is as good and especially believable as heavyweight Pacino says something. Of course we have Madsen who was probably the only right actor for the macho mobster Sonny.
Director Mike Newell seems to be a strange choice for this sometimes very violent and bloody story since he directed the terrific but sweet 'Four Weddings and a Funeral'. Fortunately it turns out he is the right man for this material, probably because its real subject is not gangsters but, like I said before, the relationships between the characters. 'Donnie Brasco' has enough to offer for people who like the gangster-genre, but even if you are normally not a big fan there is still a chance you might like it.
For a movie that's only three years old Donnie Brasco isn't something people
talk about all that much. Not exactly setting the box office alight, it's
further proof that great pictures don't always translate into great
Maybe it's the nondescript title - "Donnie Brasco" is hardly awe-inspiring and gives little indication of what the film is about. It turns out Donnie is the undercover name for Joe Pistone (Depp), a FBI agent investigating the Mafia. He makes a connection with "Lefty" (Pacino), which, while his initial integration into the group seems to lack conviction, soon builds up a watchable father-son relationship. Criticisms of the film - such as the forced nature of Pistone's behaviour becoming absorbed into the Mafia mindset - are largely irrelevant as this is a "based on a true story" outing.
Engrossing and eminently watchable, with first-rate lead performances and able back-up from Michael Madsen, this is an overlooked and extremely worthwhile film. The only complaint? Depp's first scenes, wearing the most fake-looking moustache in the history of the movies. But it detracts little from what is a highly skilled picture. So Fergeddaboudid!
Mike Newell is the weirdest choice for director of a Mafia drama, but
he actually makes a terrific fist of it, delivering one of the very
best gangster movies ever made. Johnny Depp, Al Pacino, Anne Heche and
Michael Madsen are all in top form in front of the camera, too.
Depp plays undercover FBI agent Joseph Pistone in this intriguing true story. Pistone is trying to infiltrate his way into a mob family in order to gather evidence against them. He assumes the identity of "Donnie Brasco" and slowly but surely earns the love and trust of an old-pro hit-man named Lefty Ruggiero (Pacino). As the months go by, Pistone's marriage begins to fall apart as he is away from his wife (Heche) pretty much all the time. The line between his real life and his undercover life blurs together and he finds himself dangerously close to being seduced by the violent Mob lifestyle.
Donnie Brasco is an extraordinary film in many ways. As already mentioned, the performances are note-perfect. But there's so much more to it than that. The late 70s period details are impeccably captured; the dialogue is extraordinarily raw and realistic; the moral dilemma facing Depp is achingly, agonisingly conveyed. It's such a powerful picture, completely involving, that by the end you find yourself wrapped up in Pistone's predicament, asking yourself what decisions you would make in the same circumstances. Very few movies genuinely inspire you to debate the whats, whys and wherefores of the main character and his actions... but with Donnie Brasco, that's just what you'll find yourself doing.
In a world filled with overheated, and frequently overpraised, gangster movies, it seems to me that Mike Newell's 'Donnie Brasco', the story of a cop who goes undercover to infiltrate the mob, is arguably overlooked. Based on real life events, it contains great performances from Johnny Depp and Al Pacino, a complex but coherent plot, addresses universal themes (divided loyalties, the evolution of human relationships and behaviour) and the ending is genuinely moving. Perhaps it's not fast-paced enough for devotees of the genre; more likely it "fails" this audience for its very success in portraying the mafia as fundamentally pathetic, whereas most gangster pictures at least partly buy into the glamorous myth. But for me, this a superior film to Scorcese's 'Goodfellas', with a faint note of very black comedy that sounds behind the slaughter. Recommended.
I read movie magazines regulary and I came across a review for "Donnie
Brasco". I read it and thought "I would like to see that". It isn't really a
well known film and I didn't remember it coming out in the cinema. So there
I saw it, in my local video rental store, near the bottom shelf and just one
I rented it and I watched it. And I have to say it is one of the finest
movies I had ever seen. It has drama, comedy, sadness and violence and
continues to entertain the viewer until the opening of the end credits.
The beauty of the film is that although Pacino plays a member of the mob you end up with sympathy with him due to his loyalty to Donnie (Depp). Pacino plays Lefty well. The movie is very funny in parts and sad in others. Lefty is a very funny character and is hard not to like. Michael Madsen is my favourite actor and although you don't see enough of Sonny Black in contrast to his importance in the book, what you do see of him is enjoyable. Although the film ends differently to that in the book it shows the workings of the mafia well. A splendid over-looked movie with a great cast and an atmosphere that drags you in. Yet you have to read the brilliant book to get the full story.
On one level, "Donnie Brasco" might just look like another mafia movie.
But it's not. It tells the story of FBI agent Joe Pistone (Johnny
Depp), who in the late 1970s was hired to infiltrate the mafia. So, he
got acquainted with hit-man Benjamin "Lefty" Ruggiero (Al Pacino). But
lo and behold, Joe got too much into the mafia lifestyle, to the point
where it dominated his life and kept him from his family. And no one
ended up with a very good reward at the end.
Both Depp and Pacino are about as intense as we expect them to be, with good support from Michael Madsen, Bruno Kirby, James Russo, Anne Heche and Zeljko Ivanek. With his hair all greased back, Depp looks like the ultimate mafioso. I should identify that there are two scenes that will probably make your skin crawl: the leg scene, and what they do to the Japanese waiter.
But don't get me wrong. This is a really good movie. It's certainly a less glamorized view of mafia life than most of Al Pacino's movies, and Johnny Depp was certainly showing the same flair for acting that he has brought to the screen for the past 16 years. Very well done.
With only one real scene of violence and mayhem in the film, Donnie
Brasco relies far more on character development in a story of two men
and the planned betrayal of one by another in the line of duty.
Johnny Depp plays real life FBI undercover agent Joe Pistone who infiltrates the Bonano crime family through the good offices of Lefty Ruggiero, a small time Mafia button man played by Al Pacino. During the five years undercover, Pistone who used the alias of Donnie Brasco was responsible for about 200 federal indictments because of the work he did. It took a terrible strain on him and his family as the film so aptly demonstrates.
It must have been like old home week for Johnny Depp who made his acting bones playing a youthful undercover cop in the television series 21 Jump Street. But the difference between Officer Tom Hanson going undercover for a couple of weeks at some high school and agent Pistone living and working with the wise guys for five years afraid of being found out is the difference between Donald Duck and Donald Trump.
Depp's performance as Pistone/Brasco is conveyed as much by body language and closeups as with dialog. He'd like very much to return to his wife and three daughters and live a normal life, but the demands of the job make it impossible. According to Wikipedia's article on Pistone he was uniquely qualified for his undercover assignment having lived and grown up among wise guys in New Jersey. He was familiar with all the Mafia culture and could blend in easily. The strain shows on him in his scenes with wife Anne Heche, only someone with a real gift for acting could make those scenes so real.
Depp is matched by Al Pacino as the luckless Lefty Ruggiero. In the Mafia code he vouches for Depp and if Depp betrays trust in any way, Pacino's marked for death.
Lefty Ruggiero is a hired killer with as he boasts 27 contract kills to his credit. Yet he's also a family man with a lot of problems as is Depp. Even though the man is in fact evil, Pacino does make him a likable sort. It's why Depp is dreading the day he's out from undercover because it means certain death for a man who's grown to be his friend.
Except when the crew that Depp and Pacino are part of do ambush a rival group before in fact they do it to them, Donnie Brasco is a fairly non violent film for a gangster story. Donnie Brasco emphasizes character development and a good script as opposed to bloody mayhem.
I think you'll like the story about a man who turned a friend into the biggest mutt in the history of the Mafia.
First rate mafia drama connects on a deeper level than most. Its
cinematography may not have the moody, noirish atmosphere that makes
The Godfather so appealing, but despite its slick Hollywood look, it
seems to attain such penetrating truth (this, perhaps, has a little to
do with its being based on a book by the real life main character). The
central situation of the aging mafia man taking under his confidence
and vouching for an undercover FBI agent, and that a bond forms between
the two men is a great one. The performances are absolutely superb.
Particularly the two men who the story centres on, Joe Pistone, a.k.a
Donnie Brasco (Johnny Depp, going for realism in this role, is
incredible. It begins and ends with a closeup of his eyes - this movie
would be nothing without him) and mafia man "Lefty" (Pacino, who gives
us one of his finest characterisations - best bit, his close-up after
Donnie is asked to shake hands by a certain character on a certain
boat). The vividness of the characters in this movie seems to owe a
great deal to the superb screenplay (again, credit to the real-life
source material). Recurring catch-phrases make it easy for us to get to
know characters, and wonderful little touches give the story such a
resonance, and make it ring true: like Lefty's smoking inside the car
when driving with Brasco and accusing Brasco of trying to kill him with
the draft when he opens a window to let some smoke out, and the
portrait of Lefty, the opposite of how we imagine a mafia veteran, as a
vulnerable, often emotional man.
Deserves at least four stars. Recommended to anyone (except, obviously kids, for a few scenes unsuitable to them).
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