Donnie Brasco (1997) – Johnny Depp and Al Pacino make a dynamite team


In this critically acclaimed crime drama based on true events, Johnny Depp stars as Joe Pistone, an FBI agent working deep undercover inside one of New York’s dangerous crime families, The Bonnano Family. The year is 1978 and Joe Pistone sets up an alias for himself – Donnie Brasco – and succeeds in convincing Lefty Ruggiero (Al Pacino), one of the low-ranking members of the family that he is a diamond thief. Lefty soon takes him under his wing and gradually, a bond develops between them so strong that Lefty even comes to regard him as his son. Lefty has his share of problems. He is almost broke and his son is a drug addict. We also learn that Lefty harbors a grudge towards his bosses because he was supposed to be promoted to a higher rank by now. Pistone soon gains the trust and confidence of the other gang members. As he goes further and further, he develops conflicted feelings about himself, his cover, his growing loyalty for Lefty and his job.


Director Mike Newell is known for making a diverse range of films. He is mostly known for his British romantic-comedy Four Weddings and A Funeral which was a smash hit. Donnie Brasco is his finest film and it features some extraordinary performances from it’s two leading actors, Depp and Pacino. This is the best 90s gangster film since Goodfellas and Casino. The film is based on Pistone’s 1988 book Donnie Brasco: My Undercover Life in the Mafia. Pistone also served as a consultant on the film. This is about an undercover agent who undergoes a significant personality change after being exposed to these hardened criminals. So much that even his wife begins to wonder if he is slowly turning into one of them. And Depp is very successful here in conveying the conflicted state of his character’s mind.


Lefty shows his unwavering loyalty to the family despite growing slowly disenchanted with his life and his profession. He frequently hangs out with his gangster buddies and seemingly enjoys his time with them yet he is a very lonely man. When he meets Pistone, he sees something in him and takes an instant liking to him and trusts him blindly. Depp and Pacino impart so much humanity to their characters that we can’t help feeling for them, especially Lefty. If there is one thing we can learn from these great gangster films, it’s that they focus more on the characters’ relationships than all the criminal activities, the violence and bloodshed. The film throws so many questions at us. Should we look at Pistone as a hero? Should he betray Lefty? Would we feel the same way about him if he betrays Lefty?


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