Movie Review: Donnie Brasco

Posted: February 17, 2010 in Movie Review, Reviews
Tags: , , , ,

Donnie Brasco (1997 Tri Star Dir. Mike Newell)

Trust me, don’t try the clams.

Why is it that so many of the big gangster movies made in the 90s and 00s take place in the 70s? Goodfellas, Godfather Part 3, Carlito’s Way, Casino, American Gangster, Donnie Brasco, there is a long list of movies. It always seems that it’s stuff that’s based on a true story that comes straight out of the 70s. Is there some greater story here or are we just dealing with old farts who can’t let go of the days when they had 30 inch waist lines? When I set up some movie marathons again, I’m going to have to make 70s gangster movies one of my categories.

Does this make me look old? Worn out? I hope so, it was the look I was going for.

It’s always odd watching a great big star in a movie they made when they were still rising. Johnny Depp was still greatly considered a medium size star at this time, known more for who he was dating than his actual film work. He was always a solid actor, having proved himself in Ed Wood and Nick of Time, but Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Sleepy Hollow were still in the future for him at this time. So here we have a movie where Al Pacino is as much the star of this as Depp is, but Depp is clearly holding the starring roll.

Street crossing, the newest extreme sport.

I’ve come to a conclusion about gangster movies and that is I prefer them when they’re about real people. Somehow, the stories don’t go so far into the massive excesses (see tomorrow’s review) when you’ve got real people to base them on. It sounds odd, because they go pretty far when based on real people but they always seem to go further when they’re making things up. Possibly it’s because knowing it’s based on a true story gives it a bit of weight that a fictional story wouldn’t have.

Sometimes, yes is the only correct answer to the question “I can has cheeseburger?”

What you have here is a movie where an FBI agent goes undercover and infiltrates the mob. Al Pacino plays his mentor and general chorus for the audience through the first half of the movie. It’s through Pacino’s character as Lefty that we learn much of the lingo and attitudes of the local wise guys. We also quickly learn that Lefty is a looser and can barely keep his head above water. Fortunately, this is one of those movies where Pacino wise leaves his Hoo-Ha at home and turns in a good performance.

When gangsters answer gay singles ads.

Depp plays our hero Joe Piscone, also known as Donnie Brasco. His marriage is falling apart because of his undercover work, he finds himself becoming more and more like the gangsters, and he’s got to keep turning information over to increasingly distant (at least to him) FBI contacts. By the end of the movie he even stops talking to his fed bosses because he fears that he might end up getting Lefty killed if he can’t get him away from everything before he has to give up all his evidence.

College flashbacks.

There is an extended bit about Florida in the movie, which I find an interesting bit of synchronicity considering the other movie I watched this morning is also about gangsters in Florida. The Florida story is just a side line though, where deals are made so Joe/Donnie’s bosses can set up shop there, which of course all goes wrong in the end. That leads to a small and violent slaughter, which is one of the few pieces of violence in the movie. While being about gangsters, there is surprisingly little bloodshed in the movie itself, only two or three scenes of violence at all. What there is though, is shocking and bloody.

So yeah, we’re totally going to be ripped off by Mr. & Mrs. Smith

I’m not sure why this isn’t a more well regarded movie, it’s a good, solid piece of work. It’s a fairly accurate feeling portrayal of mob life, using solid language and outfits. Beyond that, here we have a movie that actually works well. I hadn’t seen the movie before this at all, so it was all new to me. It’s a pretty cool flick though.

Keep smiling!

The DVD has a couple of featurettes, a commentary, a separate music score, deleted scenes… all the things you need for a good single disc. It wasn’t expensive either, which is always a plus when buying a little forgotten gangster film. I noticed though, looking it up, that there is an extended cut of the movie out now. I’m not too sure how much I like this trend of extended cuts taking over for theatrical cuts. They don’t always make a better movie when you get right down to them. Director’s cuts are fine, but these extended cuts seem to mess things up sometimes since I think it must just be the studio throwing all the stuff they have back into the movie whether is belongs there or not. Either way, it doesn’t much matter because I got this version instead of the extended cut.

They are SEX-AH!

Official Score:
55 Degrees on the Graffiti Bridge Scale.

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