Once upon a time, there was an actor who wasn’t associated with colorful characters like Captain Jack Sparrow or The Mad Hatter or Willy Wonka. He was solely known for his ability to deliver a performance that stayed with you long after the credits started rolling. Yes, I’m talking about Johnny Depp. Depp made his debut in A Nightmare on Elm Street & 21 Jump Street. He continued to showcase his diverse acting ability and challenge himself as an actor throughout the duration of the 80s and 90s. Adding iconic roles to his resume like Cry Baby, Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood & more. Depp set out to challenge himself as an actor and legitimately make a name for himself. Amid roles like Scissorhands & What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? – lies an often hidden and overlooked gem of his career: Donnie Brasco.
Brasco tells the true story of FBI agent Joseph Pistone, played by Depp, who goes undercover to bring down the mob. Only during his operation – he gets a bit more than he bargains for: growing close to mentor, Lefty, played by Al Pacino. Honestly, the chemistry between Pacino and Depp is remarkable. There is one scene early in the film where Pistone, or as he is known undercover Donnie Brasco, is trying to prove his loyalty to Lefty. Show his worth or value, if you will. This is a scene which sets the tone for the dynamic and growing arcs of both characters. It’s brought forth with almost sheer flawless nature.
As the film develops, we are introduced to yet another mafia persona, Sonny Black. Black is played by Michael Madsen. Madsen has such an intense presence about him in this film. He electrifies the screen with every interaction and moment. His villainous nature is brought forth with utter brilliance, making Sonny Black one of the stand out arcs within the film. That’s truly saying something when you are acting opposite The Godfather and Witty Bulger themselves.
While the film does contain strong cinematic performances from Pacino, Depp and Madsen – this film does have several bullet holes lodged within it. During the film’s second act, Brasco loses some of its’ weight, it feels like. The opening act, and even the climatic third act, of the film did a good job at balancing this mafia life with FBI informant arc. There comes a point within the film where that arc for the Pistone character almost seems to exist for a while. Not to mention that this film embraces every mafia stereotype you can throw into a film. Having those create an uneven tone for the film; almost feeling as though it doesn’t take itself seriously. It’s not that bad for the first quarter of the film – it’s when the film starts to get deeper into the mafia lifestyle. There is a brilliant scene where Depp and Paul Giamatti, who has a small role within the film, do comment on this very aspect of the film. It’s one of the more well written sequences of the film.
The final act of the film feels dull upon arrival. It spends so much time building up the relationships of Lefty and Brasco, only to fall flat for the big finish. By the time the credits start to role, the viewer is left confused and cheated. The ending comes along so abruptly, it almost starts to cheapen the film as a whole.
Overall, Donnie Brasco, is a hidden 90s gem that combines gritty story telling with strong acting. With a cast led by Johnny Depp and Al Pacino, the film has strong legs to stand. An impressive performance by Michael Madsen solidifies even more. However, the film feels dead on arrival in portions. With a messy second act, Hollywood stereotypes and an abrupt climax – this film will leave you cheated in the end. Strong performances and interesting plot do make this feel worth checking out, at least for one time in your life.
PRODUCT REVIEW: The Blu-Ray version of the film is pretty basic. It solely contains the film. Though If you are a fan of the film, it is worth the collector’s item. Not to mention, that Mill Creek does a remarkable job at bringing this film into the 21st century. The visual appeal of the film is smooth and crisp. There is a lot of definition brought to the picture making for a gorgeous looking film.
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Credits: Donnie Brasco is property of Mill Creek Entertainment and Sony. We do not own nor claim any rights. Thanks to Mill Creek Entertainment for making this post possible. To pick up a copy of Donnie Brasco for yourself, click here.