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A fascinating look at the lower echelons of organized crime, and the FBI agent who infiltrated the Mafia...
on February 6, 2015
I've long been a fan of mobster movies, and I've long thought of "Donnie Brasco" as one of the more fascinating films in this genre. This is because it's based on a true story.
"Donnie Brasco" stars Al Pacino and Johnny Depp, and was directed by Mike Newell ("Four Weddings and a Funeral"), It tells the story of FBI Special Agent Joseph D. Pistone (played by Johnny Depp), who successfully infiltrated one of New York's great Mafia families in the late 1970s, and spent six years undercover, gathering vital intelligence that was used by the U.S. Justice Department to severely diminish the Mafia's power throughout the country. Posing as Donnie Brasco, a jewel thief, Pistone was befriended by Benjamin "Lefty" Ruggerio (played by Al Pacino) , a low-level soldier in the Bonanno crime family. So successful was Pistone in penetrating the Bonanno family, that he was actually proposed to become a Mafia "made man" shortly before the FBI terminated "Operation Donnie Brasco" in 1981.
"Donnie Brasco" is certainly different than your "average" gangster flick. Instead of focusing on the rich and powerful Mafia crime lords, this film depicts life in the lower echelons of organized crime in New York, mostly through the eyes of "Lefty" Ruggerio. Here's a man who's at best an average "earner," but who's filled with ambition. He is frustrated when he's continually passed over for promotion by younger, less experienced men. When he befriends "Donnie Brasco" (Pistone), he quickly develops a strong fatherly affection for the younger man. For his part, Donnie Brasco becomes so emotionally entangled with the people he's investigating (especially Ruggerio) that he begins to lose sight of why he's there: to help bring these criminals to justice.
"Donnie Brasco" is a reasonably accurate portrayal of Pistone's experiences within New York's Mafia. It is very well acted, with especially brilliant performances from Al Pacino, Johnny Depp, Michael Madsen, and Anne Heche. The language is raw, there are graphic scenes of violence, and a few liberties are taken with historical facts, (most notably the fate of Ruggerio), but none of that in any way detracts from the film's entertainment value. The Extended Cut of "Donnie Brasco" adds about 20 minutes to the film's runtime, with scenes added so seamlessly that I found it nearly impossible to tell the difference from the original theatrical release.
"Donnie Brasco" is an excellent film in every way. Highly recommended.