Donnie Brasco is an ambitious thug, or so it seems. In fact, he’s Joseph Pistone, an undercover FBI agent who lived as a gangster for years. As the film begins, he’s about to enter the big leagues. His ticket is Lefty, a bitter wise guy who worked for the Mob for 30 years but was never made. He befriends Brasco and helps him make his way into New York’s mob. When one of his bosses is executed, Lefty’s once again overlooked and a younger guy, Sonny Black, is the one who gets promoted. Meanwhile, Brasco keeps getting closer to Lefty, but he still has a job to do. Hi superiors need reports from him, and they try to control his actions. The thing is, Donnie’s starting to like the life. He’s not sure he wants to be the one to betray the Family. He sees more scumbags among the so-called good guys than among the people he’s supposed to incriminate. Things are heating up, and people are gonna get killed…
The film is based on Joseph D. Pistone’s autobiography. The screenplay is very well written. The story is gripping, the characters are memorable and the dialogue is always interesting. I always like to know how the Mob works, and this film if full of cool details about that. But what’s the most striking is the relation between Brasco and Lefty. We understand Brasco’s dilemma, as doing his job might mean the death of a friend who trusts him. The themes of the film remind of “Goodfellas” or “Reservoir Dogs”, but the film remains original. It’s more of a complement to these two than a rip-off. None of the three films portrays the Mob exactly the same way.
“Donnie Brasco” was directed by Mike Newell, whose “Four Weddings and a Funeral” wouldn’t make you think that he’d be able to make such a hard-edged gangster drama. His direction is assured, his visual style is interesting and the cast is wonderfully conducted. Brasco is played by the always great Johnny Depp. We’re more used to see him as a weirdo or a misfit, but he’s as believable as a gangster. He has great chemistry with Al Pacino, whose truly one of the best actors in Hollywood. It’s true that after playing Michael Corleone, Tony Montana and other memorable gangsters, he could play Lefty in his sleep, but he still delivers an impressive performance. Michael Madsen gives another memorable performance as Sonny Black. Another well known face is Anne Heche, the second half of America’s most famous lesbian couple, who plays Maggie, Pistone’s wife. I like her acting style. She doesn’t have an easy role but she’s interesting in it.
“Donnie Brasco” is 120 minutes of riveting filmmaking. For some reason, the film was overlooked by most, but I’m sure that if it had been made 20 years ago, it would be considered a classic today.