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.
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