Movie #137 2020: Donnie Brasco (1997)

Give me a gangster movie, I’ll watch it. Give me a gangster movie with Al Pacino in it, I’ll watch it. Give me any movie with Al Pacino in it, I’ll watch it. Look, Pacino is my favourite actor, capisce? The scene in the hospital absolutely got me purely because he’s so good. But you already know all this.

A trip back to 1997 takes us to a (mostly) true story in the form of Donnie Brasco. The story of this one follows an FBI agent (Johnny Depp) who infiltrates the mob for an undercover mission, and slowly realises that he relates more to the men in the gang – Pacino included – than he relates to his real life.

Ah, the good old days when Johnny Depp didn’t beat his wife and actually played real human beings. I’m well aware that he was brilliant in Pirates of the Caribbean, but he should go back to doing some real acting because he’s great in this. In fact, I’d say it was probably his best performance. Oh, and Michael Madsen is as menacing and brilliant as ever. As we’ve discussed, I don’t need to talk about Pacino any more than I already have.

Sure this movie contains nearly every gangster movie trope and stereotype going, but I do not care. This shit is my fucking jam to the highest degree. I’ve been re-watching The Sopranos (which I’ve probably mentioned), and it has pushed me towards watching more gangster flicks like this. With Goodfellas consistently making my Top Ten movies list, it’s a wonder that I’ve not seen a lot of other movies of this kind, but this is one of those films that has been on my watch list for years, and I’m happy to report that it didn’t disappoint.

Not only is it directed very well, the cinematography is as good as you would expect for the genre. Mike Newell, who also directed blockbusters such as Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Four Weddings and a Funeral, helms something that is slightly different to what he’s used to, but handles it with maturity and expertise. Even better news: it’s not too long either!

I personally loved this movie because of its themes of moral ambiguity and ethical questioning. It offers a real insight into the real Donnie Brasco and the internal dilemma he faced when this happened in his real life. The sequence in the Japanese restaurant is a masterpiece – a perfect catalyst to show some character development, and a truly inspired piece of tension-filled drama. 

It’s so great to see a true story that is worth telling. I did not know anything about this before watching, but since my first viewing, I’ve been inspired to look up some of the people involved, and I can bet that you’ll be equally intrigued when watching too.

Although the recommendation I provide for this movie does not come as strongly as my recommendation for Scorsese‘s Goodfellas, it still stands amongst the better gangster movies I’ve seen. If you love this sort of thing as much as I do, or if you’re still reeling over the disappointment of The Godfather Part III thirty years on, let Donnie Brasco comfort your soul.

Donnie Brasco is available to rent on Amazon for £2.49.

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