Urban Cinefile  
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Tuesday September 15, 2020 


True story of FBI undercover agent Joe Pistone, aka Donnie Brasco, who in the 1970’s infiltrated the mob in what was to become one of the most successful mole operations ever. But it was a mission that exacted a devastating personal price. Donnie Brasco joins the mob as Lefty Ruggiero’s man (Al Pacino) and gets pulled into an unexpected and revealing friendship with the criminal he was supposed to destroy, almost destroying himself.

"Powerful Mafia genre film with impressive star leads and emotional punch. While there is plenty of action, the film’s thrust is about the characters and relationships between them. Al Pacino is magnificent as Lefty, bringing callousness, unpredictability, loyalty, humour and vulnerability in a role that he brands as his own. The development of his screen relationship with Johnny Depp’s Brasco is both credible and moving. Depp gives perhaps his best performance yet, with brilliant subtleties and nuances: as family man, he changes from the considerate husband/father to a tormented man out of control with himself; as Lefty’s colleague, he assumes a persona that consumes him. This is a fascinating story well told with substantial supporting cast, led by Michael Madsen. The tight close-ups are effective and the images memorable, if at times a trifle gruesome. A little long, but after all, this is star power at its most effective."
Louise Keller

"All that and more; as Louise says, the characters come alive in the hands of these two very different actors, making us care more than usual in Mob-set movies. And that’s thanks largely not to the fact-based nature of the story, but to Paul Attanasio’s intelligent, sensitive script and Newell’s matching direction. Depp, arguably the most underrated leading US actor of his generation, reaches moments of greatness here, with a complexity of characterisation that should earn him more top roles. Michael Madsen’s is another wonderful performance, his Sonny at once fearsome and likeable, accessible one minute, unfathomable the next. These characters are central to the psychological, emotional and physical dangers that abound in this tale. And so effectively do Newell and team portray how this scenario crumples Brasco’s otherwise sound marriage that it hurts. These are some of the many pleasures in a highly recommended film. A far more satisfying film than The Devil’s Own, which covers similar territory."
Andrew L. Urban

"The Mob film takes a new direction in this finely tuned, credible drama, based on the best selling book. The film gives an unromantic view of mob life, and while there are bouts of violence, this is a film rich in character, and it’s the relationship between Pistone/Brasco and Lefty that gives this masterful drama its soul and is the film’s riveting centrepiece. In this, the film’s central performances are superb, with Pacino giving his most understated performance in years. This is routine territory for the veteran actor, yet he gives Lefty added depth and humanity that make this performance a standout. Depp is inordinately talented, and here delivers a finely tuned performance. Anne Heche, gaining notoriety these days for her relationship with a certain TV sitcom star, displays talent in a difficult role. Hard edged, dark and always fascinating, Donnie Brasco is not just another gangster flick, though well it could have been. It’s a raw, detailed piece featuring one of the most extraordinary on-screen relationships of recent memory."
Paul Fischer

"Attanasio, who previously wrote the award-winning "Quiz Show", mixes humour and drama to produce a strong screenplay that is astounding in its revelations. Peter Sova's cinematography and Jon Gregory's editing provide the all-important edge to the filming. While Donald Graham Burt's production design and the costumes of Aude Bronson-Howard and David C. Robinson beautifully capture the unique seventies' style. For both Pacino and Depp, "Donnie Brasco" offers them excellent opportunities to shine. Virtually sharing the screen for most of the film, each presents a powerful portrayal of a man fighting to control his emotional bonding while trying to get the job done. Depp proves himself equal to the task posed by Pacino's assured performance as the failed crim."
Peter Cowan, Radio 2GB/2RES-FM

"Mob life receives one of its least glamorous screen portraits in Donnie Brasco, which concentrates on the human toll of an enormously successful real-life FBI infiltration of the New York Mafia. …. What neither the script nor Depp’s performance ever attempt is an investigation into how Donnie/Joe feels about what he’s doing….So Donnie remains an opaque creation. The film does not give him an interior voice, a door into his feelings, so one cannot engage his point of view or even connect with this intriguing and brave man as much as one would like, despite the outward appeal of Depp’s performance. By contrast, Pacino unlooses an unchecked stream of visible thought and emotion, beautifully delineating the need his small-time neighbourhood thug has for a best friend and surrogate son. Although perhaps familiar in its outer trappings, Pacino’s fine work is the key to the film succeeding to the extend that it does….Very proficient in the many scenes with the two main actors, Mike Newell’s direction is a tad soft around the edges and lacks the intense atmospherics normally associated with such fare…"
Todd McCarthy, Variety

Email this article


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

DIRECTOR: Mike Newell

PRODUCERS: Mark Johnson, Barry Levinson, Louis DiGiaimo, Gail Mutrux

SCRIPT: Paul Attanasio


EDITOR: Jon Gregory

MUSIC: Patrick Doyle


RUNNING TIME: 126 minutes




© Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2020