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Movie Review: Donnie Brasco (1997)

While this isn't the best crime/gangster movie I've ever seen, Donnie Brasco is still well worth watching thanks to strong performances by the two leads.

Take the lower-level mobsters of Goodfellas, add in a storyline similar to The Departed, and replace Martin Scorsese with a director who isn’t quite as good. In a nutshell, that is Donnie Brasco.

Donnie Brasco is the assumed name of FBI agent Joe Pistone (Johnny Depp) as he infiltrates an Italian gang in New York City. Chances are, you’ve seen a movie with that storyline before — most likely The Departed (though that film and the film it’s based off of, Infernal Affairs, are a little more complicated than that).  This is usually the part where I say something like “but what sets THIS movie apart from the rest is…”. For Donnie Brasco I’m not going to do that, because at no point in this film was I thinking “This is better than The Godfather, Goodfellas, or The Departed”. That said, I still found myself really enjoying this and I’m going to have to give this higher than an average score.

The film follows Pistone/Brasco as he joins a crime family with the help of Al Pacino’s character. Pacino has been with the mob forever, but he’s consistently seen others rise through the ranks while he was still stuck at the bottom of the food chain. This is where the similarities with Goodfellas come in; this film focuses more on the lower-level mobsters (who are always looking over their shoulder paranoid of being taking out) than the crime bosses.

Donnie Brasco was made back when Johnny Depp was still a normal person; this is probably my 4th favorite performance of his behind Ed Wood, Raoul Duke, and Jack Sparrow…that doesn’t sound like much, but Depp did do an excellent job in this film. Pacino aldo holds up his end of the bargain very well as the grumpy old guy who is getting more and more frustrated with the way things are ran.

This is one of the more intense gangster films I’ve seen; however, to create tension the director does some things that don’t make a whole lot of sense. I don’t want to spoil anything, but there are moments throughout where something happens to deliberately mislead the audience and if you go back and think about what just happened it doesn’t really add up. Still, the tension in this film makes you pretty uneasy and I appreciated this despite the flaws. I will say, however, that after all the tension throughout the film the ending ultimately doesn’t feel as satisfying as I hoped.

Like I said earlier, this probably won’t be at your “favorite movie ever” list. It’s a serviceable gangster movie that’s elevated a little higher thanks to great performances by Johnny Depp and Al Pacino. 8.5/10

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