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Donnie Brasco

August 31, 2013

Donnie Brasco (1997)
Director: Mike Newell
Actors: Johnny Depp, Al Pacino, Michael Madsen

Donnie Brasco

Synopsis: FBI Agent, Joe Pistone (Johnny Depp), goes undercover – posing as jewel thief, Donnie Brasco – in a bid to infiltrate the Mob. He befriends ageing, small-time crook, Lefty Ruggiero (Al Pacino), and Lefty vouches for Donnie to join his gang, led by Sonny Black (Michael Madsen). Soon, buoyed by his success in setting up Sonny’s gang in Miami, Donnie starts to leave Lefty behind in climbing the rungs of the Mob ladder. But the pressures on his family, and his sympathy for what will happen to Lefty after he quits, leave Donnie under pressure.

Review: Though there’s ultimately something slightly sterile and artless about Mike Newell’s direction in Donnie Brasco, there are two strong features that elevate it beyond the mediocre echelon of mob movies. First, it’s a clever insight into the everyday, professional banalities of life as a low to mid-level gangster: how everyone understands where they belong on the mob food chain, what the rules are for recruitment (‘vouching’ for someone and being a ‘made man’ are key concepts), and how gangs must generate a certain monthly revenue to warrant inclusion in a mafiosi. Incidentally, this is played for laughs as much as being a straight drama, and that brings me to the second point, which is that Al Pacino’s warm, colourful, and almost pitiable performance as Lefty Ruggiero – Pistone’s route into the Mob – is reason enough to watch the film. It’s a turn that’s testament to Pacino’s diversity as an actor, and how he can convincingly go from the towering head of a criminal fraternity in the Godfather trilogy, and charismatic Latino kingpins in Scarface and Carlito’s Way, to the dishevelled, almost irrelevant lackey that he is here in Donnie Brasco. (August 2013)

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