Donnie Brasco

*****

Reviewed by: Symon Parsons

Based on a true story, this is the tale of an undercover FBI man Joe Pistone who masquerades as "Donnie" in order to infiltrate the mob in 1978.

Donnie gains the trust of "Lefty" Bruggiero, who vouches for him and introduces him to Sonny Black (Michael Madsen - wonderfully threatening as always). Lefty takes Donnie under his wing and instructs him on the subtleties of mob-speak, behaviour, and even how to dress.

But as Donnie gets closer to uncovering the mob structure he becomes painfully aware that in revealing his true identity he will be responsible for the almost certain death of Lefty, who is becoming less of an adversary and more of a father-figure. As the film progresses, it becomes clear that there is little difference between the morality of the FBI and that of the Mafia. Both Joe and Lefty are constrained by organisations that will ultimately force them to kill their friends. ("Who am I? I'm a spoke in wheel. And so was he. And so are you.")

Johnny Depp gives a good performance as Donnie , but is acted off the screen by Al Pacino's Lefty. He's likeable, weary, scared - almost comically transparent at times - but you never forget he's a killer. The scene in which he removes his jewellery is heart-breaking and I can't think of any other actor who could pull it off like he does.

The direction is unobtrusive, although there is the odd heavy-handed moment where you almost feel Mike Newell elbow you in the ribs, whispering: "The cheetah stalking the prey - see? Donnie is the cheetah! Geddit?!?" But this is a minor quibble. I may be alone in this, but I think this is the best film made about the Mafia. Less romanticised than The Godfather and with more heart than Goodfellas, this film depicts mob life as little different to straight life.

Lefty is just another guy struggling to get by and getting passed over for promotion. Apart from the fact that he's whacked 26 guys, he could be your dad.

"If the meek want to inherit the earth, tell 'em to get in f***ing line".

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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Donnie Brasco packshot
An FBI man faces conflicted loyalties after infiltrating the mob.
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Director: Mike Newell

Writer: Richard Woodley

Starring: Al Pacino, Johnny Depp, Michael Madsen, Bruno Kirby, James Russo, Anne Heche

Year: 1997

Runtime: 126 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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