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USA 1997
Directed by
Mike Newell
121 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

Donnie Brasco

Helmed by versatile English director, Mike Newell, Donnie Brasco offers a very different take on the Scorsese territory of New York Mafioso, on one level having all the genre elements in place but stripping them of the dubiously glossy glibness with which Scorsese invests it in a film such as Goodfellas. These self-styled "wiseguys" are shown as the brutal two-bit hoodlums they really are and the violence is messily incompetent.

Based on the real life story of an undercover FBI agent, Joseph Pistone, who infiltrated the Brooklyn Mafia in the late 1970s Donnie Brasco, unlike most mobster movies, is also a film with real dramatic heart. This is largely due to the core relationship between the characters of Pistone aka Donnie Brasco played by Johnny Depp and his mentor, Lefty played by Al Pacino. Lefty is a broken-down Mob foot soldier who believes religiously in the Mafia code of honour. His own son is a hopeless junkie and he takes to Donnie like the son he never had. For his part Pistone becomes more and more drawn into the Mafia universe, effectively abandoning his wife (Anne Heche) and children in what approaches an identity crisis.

Not only does Pacino give a fine performance as Lefty, eschewing his stock mannerisms, and investing lefty with an unself-conscious pathos but Depp, whose career is based on good looks rather than good acting, turns one of his better performances although one can’t help but feel that the script could have developed his character more. Donnie Brasco is a gangster movie with a brain and a heart. It's not Scorsese but in this case that's a good thing.




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