Film Scouts Reviews

"Donnie Brasco"

by Leslie Rigoulot

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I'd run out of superlatives and still not do "Donnie Brasco" justice. It is that good! Johnny Depp, in his first real grown-up role, is undercover for the FBI trying to infiltrate the Mob in the Seventies. The low-level wiseguy he chooses as his mentor is Al Pacino, at his most restrained. And there is a real love story between them. The sympathetic Pacino is not the flashy gangster from "The Godfather", but an older, more cynical guy who has been passed over in the chain of command. Depp's FBI agent forms an authentic bond, a true friendship with the very man he is trying to destroy. In lesser hands, who knows how this true story might have emerged?

Luckily, Mike Newell is in the director's chair. As he is a Brit this seems an odd choice for an American mob movie, but only at first. His previous works include "Four Weddings and a Funeral", "Enchanted April", and "Into the West", nothing that would indicate a penchant for the gore of a gang hit. But each has relationships at its core, and that is what makes him the wise choice for "Donnie Brasco", with its intersecting triangle.

The screenwriter, Paul Attanasio, who won my admiration and the BAFTA (British Oscar) with "Quiz Show", is perfect for this film. Looking at the subtext of a situation has been his specialty, and he succeeds again when he shows us the duality of Depp's FBI agent and Pacino's brutal/vulnerable lowlife. And I predict that 'forget-about-it", a wiseguy phrase, will become as much a part of the American lexicon as "an offer you can't refuse."

Trying to maintain a façade in which the merest slip could end his life, and watching his home life crumble as a side effect, is how Joe Pistone, Depp's character and the real-life FBI agent, spent those six years. Loyalty to law and FBI began to give way as he becomes the Donnie Brasco character he created. As the wife kept in the dark, Anne Heche takes a back seat to the Bonanno mobsters portrayed by Michael Madsen, Bruno Kirby and James Russo. They're the gang that Donnie comes to regard as 'family.' But you'll be glad to return to your office politics after seeing the machinations of the mob's means of being promoted. Being a "friend of ours" is not seen in the bigger-than-life mob mythology but in the absurd light of reality. These characters, brought to life by two of the best actors of their respective generations, are powerful and evocative. The humor and tragedy that Pacino and Depp put on the screen will stay with you. Yes, "Donnie Brasco" is that good. Rated R. Tristar.

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