(Air Date: 3/5/97)
Gangster movies. Since "The Godfather," 25 years ago, gangster movies have become a staple for the American moviegoing public.
Like most other gangster movies, "Donnie Brasco" is about friendship and betrayal. But it's told from the viewpoint of an FBI agent who goes deep undercover to infiltrate the mob, while still trying to hold a semblance of a family life.
Johnny Depp, in the title role, seems to be almost too much of a "pretty boy" to get down and dirty. But unlike previous roles, where he plays a lovable eccentric, he is powerfully convincing as a man who slowly develops a deep conflict between the life he's living and the life he's leaving behind.
The man who shows Depp the inside workings of the mafia is Lefty, played by Al Pacino. Lefty is a guy who's been a loyal wiseguy for 30 years, and although everyone knows him, no one thinks enough of him to reward his loyalty. Pacino is effectively understated here, and it's refreshing to see he can steal a scene with silence just as well as by kicking and screaming.
Director Newell, best known for "Four Weddings and a Funeral," is an interesting choice to direct this kind of movie. But he pulls it off masterfully, developing Depp and Pacino's on-screen relationship and making bad guys of both the FBI and the mob. The violence is mostly off-screen, and it's never glamorous. Attanasio, who also adapted the screenplay for "Quiz Show," has a real knack for period dialogue. In this case, the period is the late 70s.
The one weakness was the stereotypical role of the wife, played predictably by Anne Heche. But it doesn't take away from Depp's breakout performance, or Pacino's Oscar-worthy turn.
"Donnie Brasco" is a welcome contrast to the "Star Wars Special Edition" re-issues and the Howard Stern movie. As a wiseguy would say, "forgetaboutit".
Copyright 1997 Alex Lau
"Movie Magazine International" Movie Review Index
"Movie Magazine International" Home Page