Donnie Brasco
First screened in Winter 1998 / Most recently screened in September 2017
Director: Mike Newell. Cast: Johnny Depp, Al Pacino, Michael Madsen, Bruno Kirby, James Russo, Anne Heche, Robert Miano, Zeljko Ivanek, Gerry Becker, Rocco Sisto, Ronnie Farer, Brian Tarantina, Paul Giamatti, Tim Blake Nelson, Zach Grenier, Tony Lip, George Angelica, Val Avery, Madison Arnold, Delanie Fitzpatrick, Katie Sagona, Sara Gold. Screenplay: Paul Attanasio (based on the book Donnie Brasco: My Life Undercover in the Mafia by Joseph D. Pistone and Richard Woodley).

Twitter Capsule: As well-worn as this mafia/informant terrain is, this drama is amazingly rich in human detail and emotional depth.

Second Capsule: This is so markedly the best work that Newell, Pacino, or Depp did in long swaths of their careers before and after. Wonder what it sparked?

VOR:   The filmmaking is nimble and sharp more than it's innovative, but so many movies aspire so strenuously to a sidewalk realism this one nails.

Photo © 1997 TriStar Pictures
(Here's some drivel I wrote as a college student) Another gangster movie…from the director of Enchanted April? Perhaps I shouldn't be so surprised that Donnie Brasco works so marvelously, since Newell has seemed distinctly uncomfortable in lighter fare like April or Four Weddings and a Funeral, stiff and uneven films that nonetheless made his reputation. Newell directs Donnie Brasco in a style I would call operatic, if I knew anything about opera. What I mean is, he finds room in his story for a full range of human emotions—anxieties, sorrows, convictions, and ecstasies—and compacts them all in a genre that too often bores us because emotions are tossed in favor of cool-guy posturing. Together with Face/Off, Titanic, and L.A. Confidential, this movie proved in 1997 that mainstream filmmaking can range fully across the emotional spectrum and not only remain entertaining, but become even more so by virtue of its humane artistry. Al Pacino surfaces, at least temporarily, from his recent pool of sludgy overacting and gives one of the year's most forceful portraits. His Lefty has a nasty cough, but pushing aside medicine and looking at his spirit, what the guy really suffers from is heart disease. Pacino makes a riveting spectacle of someone who's just not feeling in the game anymore, but doesn't want the game to go downhill without him, and can't play anything else anyway. Johnny Depp is also fantastic, but the poor guy seems destined to live without the respect he deserves. Maybe it's the name.

Not yet reviewed in full. A–

(in Winter 1998: A)

Academy Award Nominations:
Best Adapted Screenplay: Paul Attanasio

Other Awards:
Boston Society of Film Critics: Best Actor (Pacino)
National Board of Review: Best Supporting Actress (Heche; also cited for Wag the Dog)

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