Donnie Brasco (film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Mike Newell|
|Screenplay by||Paul Attanasio|
|Based on||Donnie Brasco: My Undercover Life in the Mafia|
by Joseph D. Pistone
|Music by||Patrick Doyle|
|Edited by||Jon Gregory|
|Distributed by||Sony Pictures Releasing|
|Box office||$124.9 million|
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.
The film is loosely 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. 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 Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.
In 1970s New York City, Lefty Ruggiero, an aging gangster in the Bonanno crime family, is introduced to a jewel thief named Donnie Brasco, who impresses Lefty by threatening a diamond dealer whom Donnie suspects of having sold Lefty a zirconia set ring, priced as a real diamond one. Lefty teaches Donnie the rules of the Mafia and introduces him to several made men, including Sonny, Nicky, and caporegime Sonny Red.
Donnie is revealed to be Joseph D. Pistone, an undercover FBI agent, whose wife, Maggie, is not fond of his undercover position. After the Bonanno family's street boss is killed, Sonny assumes his position. As the crew runs a series of successful shakedowns and hijackings in Brooklyn, Pistone infiltrates the Mafia and collects more information for the FBI via wiretap recording.
FBI supervisor Dean Blandford takes an interest in the case, and asks Pistone to incorporate a Miami-based undercover FBI agent, Richie Gazzo, into the Bonannos' operation. Though reluctant, Pistone convinces Sonny and the crew to meet Richie in Miami, where Donnie and Lefty plan to run Richie's nightclub on their own, and attempt to impress Florida mob boss, Trafficante, with a yacht party. Sonny gets there first, angering Lefty, especially for offering Donnie to run the club as an unofficial made man. However, they later reconcile when Lefty's son nearly dies of a drug overdose.
On its opening day, the nightclub is raided by Miami police on orders from Trafficante, who was colluding with Sonny Red. Suspecting Sonny Red to be responsible, the crew, without Donnie, kill Sonny Red and two rival caporegimes after calling a meeting. The crew also kills Nicky, who was found to have been carrying out a narcotics deal without Sonny's knowledge and without making payments "up the chain." Donnie helps with the clean up of the bodies. With Sonny becoming the new street boss, Donnie is tasked with finding and killing Sonny Red's son, Bruno.
At home, Pistone's behavior increasingly becomes like that of the criminal he pretends to be. One last dispute between Donnie and his wife becomes physical.
With increasing pressure from the FBI to end the operation and make arrests, Donnie tries convincing Lefty to escape his criminal life. However, Bruno is tracked down and Lefty discovers that the yacht Donnie had previously arranged was federally owned. Outside the location where Bruno is hiding, Lefty confronts Donnie about his loyalties. At gunpoint, Lefty forces Donnie out to kill Bruno to confirm his loyalties, but before either murder can be committed, FBI agents arrive and apprehend them.
FBI agents visit Sonny's hangout, and reveal Donnie's true identity to him and his crew by showing them photographs of Pistone in FBI uniform. Later, Lefty is summoned to a meeting; he leaves behind his valuables and tells his girlfriend that if Donnie calls to tell him that "if it was going to be anyone, I'm glad it was him," as he goes to his implied death. With his family in attendance, Pistone attends a small private ceremony for his service, being awarded a $500 check and a medal.
The end title cards state that the evidence collected by "Donnie Brasco" 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.
- Al Pacino as Lefty
- Johnny Depp as Donnie
- Michael Madsen as Sonny
- Bruno Kirby as Nicky
- James Russo as Paulie
- Anne Heche as Maggie
- Željko Ivanek as Tim Curley
- Gerry Becker as Dean Blandford FBI
- Robert Miano as Sonny Red
- Brian Tarantina as Bruno
- Rocco Sisto as Richie Gazzo
- Zach Grenier as Dr. Berger
- Walt MacPherson as Sheriff
- Ronnie Farer as Annette
- Terry Serpico as Strip club owner
- Gretchen Mol as Sonny's girlfriend
- Tony Lip as Philly Lucky
- George Angelica as Big Trin
- Val Avery as Trafficante
- Madison Arnold as Jilly
- Tim Blake Nelson as FBI Technician
- Paul Giamatti as FBI Technician
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, he bought the film rights. 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. 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. Frears was adamant about casting Pacino to play Lefty. After several years of development hell, Frears was eventually replaced with Mike Newell as director, and development picked up in 1996. Pacino and Depp were ultimately cast in the co-starring roles, and Pistone was hired as a consultant to help them develop their characters.
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.
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. It went on to earn $41.9 million in North America and $83 million from other markets, for a total of $124.9 million.
Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 88% of critics have given the film a positive review based on 57 reviews, with an average score of 7.81/10. The website's critical consensus reads: "A stark, nuanced portrait of life in organized crime, bolstered by strong performances from Al Pacino and Johnny Depp." At Metacritic, which assigns a weighted mean rating using reviews from mainstream critics, the film received an weighted average score of 76 out of 100, based on 21 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B+" on an A+ to F scale.
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." 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." Siskel and Ebert gave Donnie Brasco "two thumbs up" on their syndicated television series. In his print review, Roger Ebert from the Chicago Sun-Times gave it three and a half stars out of four: the film had one of Pacino's best performances and furthermore Ebert wrote how Donnie Brasco was rare in exploring "two men who grow to love each other, within the framework of a teacher-student relationship." Peter Travers of Rolling Stone praised the film, saying that "Donnie Brasco is one terrific movie." Mick LaSalle from the San Francisco Chronicle gave the film a positive review and said that Donnie Brasco was "a first class Mafia thriller."
Critics praised Depp's performance especially: a Salon.com review hailed Depp's performance as "sensational." 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."
According to Charles Taylor in his review for Salon.com, 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." Entertainment Weekly reserved its highest praise for Pacino: "If Donnie Brasco belongs to any actor, though, it's Al Pacino." 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".
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