I’ve watched gangster films before: The Godfather, of course, the biggie, The Untouchables, Public Enemies, American Gangster, for the most part, I don’t find this film genre especially riveting, except for some shining gems. When I say gems I mean The Godfather. Donnie Brasco is by no means a bad film. But it is not The Godfather. Then again, so few films are.
Donnie Brasco came out in 1997, and stars a young Johnny Depp and an aging Al Pacino. An FBI agent, Joseph Pistone,(Depp) who uses the alias Donnie Brasco, goes undercover to crack open the New York Italian mafia. Eventually, the middle manager, Lefty (Pacino) takes him under his wing. But the closer Joseph gets into the mob, the more he begins to identify with it, and even become the very same people he is trying to expose.
I enjoyed this film more than most gangster movies I’ve watched, and others have agreed. Donnie Brasco is considered as one of the iconic gangster movies in film history. It is based on a popular novel by Richard Woodley, is based on a true story, and was nominated for best writing and best screenplay based on material previously produced or published at the 1997 Oscars. The film does have some definite strengths.
The beginning is set up in total en medias res. For a while the audience really has no idea what is going on, which I think is meant to make viewers have a similar experience to Joseph as he’s absorbed into the mafia, a world so different from anything he’s ever known. It also creates the needed feel of tension and excitement. The character of Joseph is fleshed out in a very interesting way. The audience learns just enough about Joseph to barely understand him, so when he begins to be lost in the mafia world, we really start questioning him. The ending was blunt and powerful.
The only critique I have of this film is that I got quite bored for a good hour in the middle. It just didn’t hold my interest enough. And perhaps that is not a bad thing. Perhaps it just says I am just not quite so interested in most gangster films.
I feel like I want to give this film a 6, but it does have some really big strengths, but I don’t think it deserves a 7, so I will settle with a 6.5. It deserves that extra .5 if only because in the film Lefty forces Joseph to shave off his god-awful mustache. Let’s all thank him for keeping up Johnny Depp’s appearances.