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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, leaves Donnie under pressure…

Review: Though ultimately I find something slightly sterile and artless about Mike Newell’s Donnie Brasco, there are two strong features that help keep this one of the more interesting Mob pics around. The first is it’s a clever insight into the everyday, unglamorous, almost professional banality of life as a low/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 certain mafiosi. Incidentally, this is played for laughs as much as it is straight and serious, and that brings me to my second point, which is that Al Pacino’s warm, colourful, comic, 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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