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Starring Johnny Depp and Al Pacino
Directed by Mike Newell
Screenplay by Paul Attanasio

I'd seen the commercials and there it was, another Al Pacino as a mobster movie. Been there, seen it, liked it, but it wasn't Pacino's name above the title that made me want to see Donnie Brasco. It was Johnny Depp's name. Depp may not be the big-name star that Pacino is but he has, in the past, made very interesting and unique choices in the movies he has appeared in. Edward Scissorhands and Ed Wood may come to your mind. Benny and Joon comes to mine.

So there Cranky is, in-a-packed-to-the-walls house for Donnie Brasco, and damned if Depp doesn't do the unique thing (career-wise) again. He makes a fairly straight ahead cop-infiltrates-the-mob movie, and shows more depth to his abilities as an actor than he has before.

Here are the signs Cranky looks for when he sits in an audience and thinks he's seen a great flick -- one in which the performances are great and affecting, and the script is tight and bug free. Cranky's personal opinions are one thing. The more important thing is how the audience reacts, 'cuz I watch that too. Cranky listens: Is the audience talking about the movie on the way out? Do they feel sympathetic towards the characters? Do they wonder what happens next?

Al Pacino's performance answers the first question with a resounding yes. Johnny Depp's does the same for the second. Actually, Pacino scores on both counts. So does Depp. Donnie Brasco is a fine flick. It's the kind of flick that, had it been released two months ago, we'd be using the n word (that'd be "nomination") to describe it.

Donnie Brasco is based on the true story of an FBI man who did so well that a $500,000 bounty is still on his head as he lives under an assumed name, somewhere in this great land of ours. (That would be the U.S. of A. for my international readers).

Here's the dish: Donnie Brasco is really Joe Pistone, FBI man. He infiltrates the mob under guise of a jewelry man, a fence for stolen diamonds. His target is Lefty Ruggiero (Al Pacino), 30 years as a made man and still a worker ant in the corporate structure of the mob. As the infiltration progresses, Donnie becomes more like a son to Leftie than his own junkie offspring. The closer they get, the more they begin to resemble each other.

Donnie's wife is kept out of sight from the mob, but Maggie (Anne Heche) is always present in the story as her husband changes before her eyes; as their daughters grow up knowing Daddy from occasional and secretive night visits.

Donnie Brasco is not a cops and robbers story in the traditional mold. There is a tremendous amount of humor in the piece, and not all from stereotypes. Halfway through you'll hear a long explanation on the grammatical use and meanings of fuhgeddaboudit, which will have you laughing out loud. That humorous touch serves to make the violent moments, when they come, all the more horrifying.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Donnie Brasco, he would have paid...


Donnie Brasco doesn't play like any mob movie you've seen Pacino in before, probably because the director, Mike Newell, is British. The mob stereotypes you expect to see are not present. It's rock solid moviemaking. Go see it.

Click to buy films by Mike Newell
Click to buy films starring Johnny Depp
Click to buy films starring Al Pacino

The Cranky Critic website is Copyright © 1995  -  2017  by Chuck Schwartz. Articles by Paul Fischer are Copyright © 1999 - 2006 Paul Fischer. All images, unless otherwise noted, are property of,©, ®, their respective studios and are used by permission. All Rights Reserved. Not to be used or copied for any commercial purpose. Academy Award(s) and Oscar®(s) are registered trademarks and service marks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.