Donnie Brasco – Review

19 Oct

Mob movies have the difficult job of presenting some reprehensible characters to us, and then they have to make us like them. That’s what makes gangster classics like Scarface and the first two Godfather films so good. Coincidentally, both of these films star Al Pacino, and so does Donnie Brasco, a mob film that’s based on a true story that has potential to be a classic, but is unfortunately a film I would characterize as a B-gangster film.

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Special Agent Joe Pistone, aka Donnie Brasco (Johnny Depp), is an FBI agent working undercover to infiltrate the Bonanno crime family. His in with the family comes in the form of a low level lieutenant, “Lefty” Ruggiero (Al Pacino), who is getting upset that he’s been with the family for thirty years and was involved in 26 hits, but still hasn’t gotten anywhere. Donnie is quickly introduced to Sonny “Black” (Michael Madsen), the head of the group. Donnie soon becomes well liked by the family, and he begins to lose sight of what his life really is, as he falls deeper and deeper into the character of Brasco, and distances himself from his family.

I honestly can’t say too much about Donnie Brasco because I really just found it to be a completely mediocre movie. Critics have praised this movie for it’s realism and performances, but it really doesn’t achieve anything new that hasn’t been done in better gangster films. What I will actually remember most from this movie, and what is really annoying, is the tough talk. It almost lampoons gangster talk. If I had to hear “forget about it” one more time, I would take the DVD out of the player and use it to cut my own head off.

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The few things that stick out as positive are Pacino’s performance and the period design. Al Pacino is no newcomer when it comes to gangster films, and his performance as a softer , tired kind of gangster is a welcome change after his malicious Michael Corleone and Tony Montana. It’s a very heartfelt performance that really saves the movie from being completely unmemorable. The period design is also really nice. Taking place in 1978 to around 1980, this movie really does a great job of setting the New York and Miami scenes up to make them look as authentic as possible, from the cars to the music to the clothes.

There just isn’t anything in this movie that will put it in the upper echelons of gangster films. Goodfellas and Casino have great characters with excellent dialogue and artistic shot designs. Scarface exists as almost pure entertainment featuring a comic book style gangster story that is just so much fun to watch. Donnie Brasco falls in the area between Carlito’s Way and Kill the Irishman, although if someone asked me to choose from these three, I’d choose Kill the Irishman.

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Thank goodness for Pacino. If it wasn’t for him, this film would be nothing. It may look nice and have all the elements of a solid gangster movie, but everything just falls flat. Johnny Depp and Michael Madsen do nothing special and the story is not the least bit exciting, which is weird considering all the material the film makers had to work with. From my research, the adaptation of the true story isn’t even that accurate. Well if Donnie Brasco isn’t accurate or entertaining, why would you want to watch it?

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