Donnie Brasco (film)

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Donnie Brasco
Theatrical release poster
Directed byMike Newell
Screenplay byPaul Attanasio
Based onDonnie Brasco: My Undercover Life in the Mafia
by Joseph D. Pistone
Richard Woodley
Produced by
CinematographyPeter Sova
Edited byJon Gregory
Music byPatrick Doyle
Distributed by
Release dates
Running time
127 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$35 million[2]
Box office$124.9 million[3]

Donnie Brasco is a 1997 American crime drama film directed by Mike Newell, and starring Al Pacino and Johnny Depp. Michael Madsen, Bruno Kirby, James Russo, and Anne Heche appeared in supporting roles. The film, written by Paul Attanasio, is based on the 1988 nonfiction book Donnie Brasco: My Undercover Life in the Mafia by Joseph D. Pistone and Richard Woodley.[4]

The film is based on the true story of Pistone (Depp), an FBI undercover agent who infiltrated the Bonanno crime family in New York City during the 1970s, under the alias Donnie Brasco, a jewel thief from Vero Beach, Florida. Brasco maneuvers his way into the confidence of an aging Mafia hitman, Lefty Ruggiero (Pacino), who vouches for him. As Donnie moves deeper into the Mafia, he realizes that not only is he crossing the line between federal agent and criminal, but also leading his friend Lefty to an almost certain death.

Donnie Brasco premiered in Century City on February 24, 1997, and was released on February 28, 1997, by TriStar Pictures. The film was a box office success, earning $124.9 million against its $35 million budget, and received positive reviews from critics. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.


In 1978 New York City, Lefty Ruggiero, an aging enforcer in the Bonanno crime family, meets Joseph D. Pistone, a young undercover FBI agent posing as jewel thief "Donnie Brasco". Donnie insists that a diamond Lefty has acquired from a strip club owner is fake; when the two confront the owner, Donnie beats him and takes his car as repayment. Lefty teaches Donnie the rules of the Mafia and introduces him to members of his crew, including Sonny Black, Nicky, Paulie, and rival crew leader Sonny Red. After the boss of the family is killed, Sonny Black is promoted to lead the crew; Lefty resents the decision, believing that his years of service make him more deserving. As the crew runs a series of successful shakedowns and hijackings in the city, Pistone exploits his position as an associate in Lefty's crew to gather information for the FBI via wiretap recordings. He also forms a genuine bond with Lefty, who is struggling with family issues and a lifetime of debt.

Pistone is asked by his FBI supervisor to incorporate Miami-based undercover FBI Agent Richie Gazzo into the Donnie Brasco operation. He persuades Lefty to meet with Richie and set up an illegal gambling racket in a long-closed tavern he owns. Lefty hopes to impress the local mob boss, Santo Trafficante Jr., by throwing a yacht party and persuading him to support his new business. Sonny Black finds out about Lefty's plan and intercedes by ingratiating himself to Trafficante and officially taking Donnie under his wing. Lefty believes Donnie has betrayed him and cuts ties with him until Lefty's son nearly dies of an overdose and Donnie is the only one who comes to comfort him. Pistone's marriage with his wife Maggie continues to worsen due to long absences while undercover, leaving her alone to look after their three daughters. Pistone's behavior increasingly becomes more like that of the criminal he pretends to be, even hitting Maggie when she talks back to him.

On its opening day, Sonny Black's club is raided by corrupt Miami Police officers on Trafficante's payroll as a favor for Sonny Red. Suspecting a setup, Sonny Black and his crew return to New York and gun down Sonny Red and two other mobsters in an ambush. Lefty kills Nicky afterward for lying about a drug deal and because Sonny Black suspected that he snitched on the crew in Florida. Donnie is brought in to help clean up and dispose of the bodies. Sonny Black becomes the new boss and orders Donnie to kill Sonny Red's son, Bruno, so that Donnie can officially become a member of their family. As Lefty and Donnie stake out Bruno's hiding place, Donnie tries to offer Lefty money to leave the Mafia, but Lefty begins questioning his loyalty at gunpoint. Before they can kill Bruno, the FBI arrests them both (to protect Donnie's cover) and ends the investigation.

FBI agents visit Sonny Black's hangout and reveal Donnie's true identity to the crew. When Lefty is called to a meeting with his crew, he puts his valuables away for his wife to find before leaving, knowing that he will be killed for letting an FBI agent infiltrate the Bonanno family. In a small private ceremony, Pistone receives a medal and a reward check of $500 for his service, and Maggie asks him to come home afterward.

The end title cards state that the evidence collected by Pistone in the Donnie Brasco operation led to over 200 indictments and over 100 convictions. Pistone lives with his wife under an assumed name in an undisclosed location, with a $500,000 open contract on his head.



When Pistone's book, Donnie Brasco: My Undercover Life in the Mafia was published in 1988, Louis DiGiaimo, who worked as a casting director for Barry Levinson, was a childhood acquaintance of Joseph D. Pistone, and served as a consultant for the book, bought the film rights.[5][6] DiGiaimo brought it to Levinson's Baltimore Pictures, as well as producers Mark Johnson and Gail Mutrux, who then turned to Paul Attanasio to write the script.[5] Stephen Frears was initially hired as director for the film, but when Goodfellas, another mob film, was released in 1990, the planning for the film was pushed back.[5] Frears was adamant about casting Pacino to play Lefty.[5] After several years of development hell, Frears was eventually replaced with Mike Newell as director, and development picked up in 1996.[5] Pacino and Depp were ultimately cast in the co-starring roles, and Pistone was hired as a consultant to help them develop their characters.[7]


Donnie Brasco premiered in Century City, California on February 24, 1997. It was given a wide release in North America on February 28, 1997. It was released in the United Kingdom on May 2, 1997.[8]

Donnie Brasco was released on DVD in October 2000 as a "special edition" with bonus materials such as commentary tracks. In January 2006, Donnie Brasco was released as part of a DVD mob box set along with Snatch, Bugsy and The American Gangster. In May 2007, Donnie Brasco was released on Blu-ray in an extended cut.[9]


Box office[edit]

Donnie Brasco was released theatrically in North America on February 28, 1997. The film earned $11.6 million from 1,503 theaters during its opening weekend.[2] It went on to earn $41.9 million in North America and $83 million from other markets, for a total of $124.9 million.[3]

Critical response[edit]

On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, Donnie Brasco has an approval rating of 88% based on 57 reviews, with an average rating of 7.70/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "A stark, nuanced portrait of life in organized crime, bolstered by strong performances from Al Pacino and Johnny Depp."[10] Metacritic, which assigned a weighted average rating of 77 out of 100, based on 21 critics, reports the film has "generally favorable reviews".[11] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B+" on an A+ to F scale.[12]

Janet Maslin of The New York Times called it "a sharp, clever encounter, overturning all manner of genre cliches and viewer expectations... and the best crime movie in a long while, is full of similar surprises as it leads Mr. Pacino and Johnny Depp through a fine-tuned tale of deception."[13] Entertainment Weekly called it a "wonderfully dense, clever, and moving gangland thriller," and gave it an A−, also praising Paul Attanasio's screenplay as "a rich, satisfying gumbo of back stabbing, shady business maneuvers, and mayhem."[14] Siskel and Ebert gave Donnie Brasco "two thumbs up" on their syndicated television series.[15] In his print review, Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave it three and a half stars out of four: the film had one of Pacino's best performances, and, according to Ebert, Donnie Brasco was rare in depicting "two men who grow to love each other, within the framework of a teacher-student relationship."[16] Peter Travers of Rolling Stone praised the film, saying that "Donnie Brasco is one terrific movie."[17] Mick LaSalle from the San Francisco Chronicle gave the film a positive review and said that Donnie Brasco was "a first class Mafia thriller."[18]

Critics praised Depp's performance especially: a review hailed Depp's performance as "sensational."[19] New York Magazine called him "graceful" and found his acting highly believable: "We can believe that the mob might take him for a tough, ambitious young hood—he has the wariness and the self-confidence that creates an aura."[20]

According to Charles Taylor in his review for, both Pacino and Depp are "in top form"; in remarking on Pacino's frequent collaborations with younger actors (Sean Penn, John Cusack), Taylor called Donnie Brasco "the best in this series of duets" and singled out Pacino's skills: "His final scene is all the more heartbreaking for the economy of gesture and feeling he brings it. It's an exit that does justice to both the actor and the role, and it leaves an ache in the movie."[19] Entertainment Weekly reserved its highest praise for Pacino: "If Donnie Brasco belongs to any actor, though, it's Al Pacino."[14] The Playlist called it one of Pacino's best performances, writing "though Scent of A Woman, Two Bits and even (relatively) Heat showcased Pacino at his most exuberantly grandiose, Brasco brings him back to a performance of stealth and nuance".[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Harris, Dana (December 17, 2001). "Mandalay on road with Summit". Retrieved October 19, 2021.
  2. ^ a b "Donnie Brasco (1997)". The Numbers.
  3. ^ a b "Donnie Brasco (1997)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved February 13, 2010.
  4. ^ "Nominees & Winners for the 70th Academy Awards | Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences". Archived from the original on February 18, 2010. Retrieved May 6, 2012.
  5. ^ a b c d e Heard, Christopher (May 4, 2001). Depp. ECW Press. ISBN 9781550224702 – via Google Books.
  6. ^ "Donnie Brasco 15th Anniversary: 25 Things You Didn't Know About Johnny Depp's Classic Mob Movie" Archived 2014-03-16 at the Wayback Machine. The Moviefone Blog.
  7. ^ "Donnie Brasco: Out from the Shadows", featurette appearing on Donnie Brasco DVD
  8. ^ "Film: Looking for Al Pacino". The Independent. April 24, 1997.
  9. ^ "DVD Talk > Reviews".
  10. ^ "Donnie Brasco (1997)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved February 11, 2024.
  11. ^ "Donnie Brasco Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved February 11, 2024.
  12. ^ "Find CinemaScore" (Type "Donnie Brasco" in the search box). CinemaScore. Retrieved March 12, 2020.
  13. ^ Maslin, Janet (February 28, 1997). "Al Pacino as Gangster, A Guy Who's Not Wise". The New York Times.
  14. ^ a b Gleiberman, Owen (March 17, 1997). "Rev. of Donnie Brasco (1997)". Entertainment Weekly. Archived from the original on April 21, 2009. Retrieved December 21, 2009.
  15. ^ "Donnie Brasco". At the Movies. Retrieved June 7, 2010.[dead link]
  16. ^ "Donnie Brasco". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved February 13, 2021.
  17. ^ Peter Travers (February 28, 1997). "Donnie Brasco | Movie Reviews". Rolling Stone. Retrieved May 6, 2012.
  18. ^ Mick LaSalle (February 28, 1997). "Guns and Roses / Pacino, Depp mob thriller 'Donnie Brasco' adds love triangle to the payoff". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved June 19, 2011.
  19. ^ a b Taylor, Charles (March 28, 1997). "Donnie Brasco: With Al Pacino and Johnny Depp in top form, "Donnie Brasco" is smarter than the average mob movie". Retrieved August 21, 2014.
  20. ^ Denby, David (March 17, 1997). "Movies: The Sting". New York Magazine. pp. 55–56. Retrieved December 21, 2009.
  21. ^ The Playlist. The Essentials: Al Pacino's Best Performances

External links[edit]