Movie Review: DONNIE BRASCO (1997) – Johnny Depp Does Gangster Good

Published by Shah Shahid on

I love me a mobster movie. And while it’s not the typical mobster flick, DONNIE BRASCO is considered one of the finer and better-done movies of the genre. Here is my Movie Review…

Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

DONNIE BRASCO sees in the titular role Johnny Depp as an undercover cop infiltrating the New York mob. The story focuses on and how his time with them affects him emotionally as well as his personal life. Now I know what you’re thinking, and let me clarify right away that I didn’t spoil the damn movie for you.

Unlike other Mobster flicks with a huge twist of the main character being a cop all along, DONNIE BRASCO differs because from day one we know that he’s an undercover cop. Instead of leaving that fact as a twist, the movie features the double life he has to live doing his job. We get to see how being the alter ego of ‘Donnie Brasco’ affects the average every day cop Joe Pistone.

Accompanying Johnny Depp in this is legendary actor and veteran of gangster movies, Al Pacino himself. However, he does a 180 and moves away from his high profile badass mobster roles, which he’s made his claim to fame with, and does something different. Pacino plays Lefty, a senior yet small time Mobster who takes Pistone under his wing and brings him into the Mafia, not knowing that he’s an undercover cop.

DONNIE BRASCO works on a multitude of levels ranging from the excitement of the typically authentic mobster movie, to the suspense and mystery of an undercover cop drama to the tragedy that is a true story. And, without doing intense research on the goings on this movie, it is based on a book of the same name written by a Joseph D. Pistone. Think what you will.

This film is written impeccably well. And the best scenes are featured between Pacino and Depp. As a middle management Mobster, Lefty brings Donnie into the fold and teaches him the ropes of the business. This is where we learn the nuances of the Mafia; their hierarchy, expressions, way of life and all this cool stuff, which was always just accepted at face value in other movies of the genre. DONNIE BRASCO gives us a crash course in it through the mobster Lefty to the newbie Donnie.

DONNIE BRASCO is about how the undercover Agent Pistone infiltrates and catches the Mafia bad guys while posing as Donnie. What it becomes is the transformation of this undercover officer into almost going native and becoming a Mafia guy himself. Donnie’s experience with these criminals changes him, his lifestyle, attitude… something that complicates his relationship with his wife and his personal life.

It’s an amazing commentary on the emotional well being of Undercover officers that are sent to be someone else, live with others, get emotionally close to them, open their hearts and minds to a philosophy of which they’re supposed to be taught against… and still be expected to betray them in the end.

DONNIE BRASCO is awesome as it hits all the notes of a crime drama, while still pacing it slow enough to tell its story. Despite it’s slow story telling, the movie is riveting and engaging as every scene is a potential moment for Pistone’s cover to be blown. DONNIE BRASCO is definitely one of the better crime thrillers out there, and it easy to see why.

Shah Shahid

Entertainment Writer | Film & TV Critic | Bollywood Blogger | Host of Split Screen Podcast | Proud Geek Girl Dad


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