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Donnie Brasco – 1997 Newell
- Al Pacino is the main reason to watch and study Donnie Brasco. Pacino has been playing variations on the gangster (The Godfather trilogy, Scarface, Carlito’s Way) amassing a remarkable resume in this genre alone. Here he plays Lefty—in many ways the exact opposite of Michael Corleone (I would guess this is part of the intrigue for Pacino). Lefty is on the bottom, broke, in a tiny apartment, moody, saying “I just $hit my pants” when he’s scared and often drinking too many spritzers. In many ways he’s a loser, in many ways Lefty is Fredo. Pacino plays Lefty with such empathy. He’s pitiable one moment, hilarious the next, and yet chilling a few seconds later- Pacino is in command the entire time.
- Pacino isn’t the only reason Donnie Brasco works despite non-descript direction. Depp is great as the lead and if it weren’t for Pacino being so brilliant you’d be walking away from Donnie Brasco singing his praises first. Depp can be a chameleon of course—but you wonder if what was missing in his 21st century film choices (his run in the 1990’s is almost unassailable) is more leading man or straight man choices. He’s an all-time great but at some point in his career if the role didn’t call for a big accent and/or tons of makeup he wasn’t interested
- The ensemble to support Pacino and Depp is more than stellar. Many in the cast have experience in the genre. Michael Madsen (Reservoir Dogs) is here as Sonny Black. Bruno Kirby (The Godfather Part II) is part of the crew as well. It goes beyond just those two—in one of the better scenes in the movie Depp’s character is explaining the various uses for “Forget about it” to FBI men Tim Blake Nelson and Paul Giamatti (just a few years before O Brother, Where Art Thou? And Sideways).
- The script is rock solid—some of the best parts are Depp’s Donnie learning the ropes from Pacino’s Lefty. It is like a how-to guide for being a gangster: you don’t wear jeans, a mustache and you don’t carry a wallet. The line Pacino delivers about how the Indians got John Wayne makes me laugh out loud every time
- I’d have to guess that the success of Four Weddings and a Funeral in 1994 is how Mike Newell had the juice to come to direct this material with Depp and Pacino (both very hot in 1997). If you go back to Pacino’s other historic gangster roles above—sadly Newell is no Coppola or De Palma
- Recommend but not in the top 10 of 1997