How did I miss this film for twelve years? As a Pacino fan, a Johnny Depp fan, and a mobster movie addict, it's nothing short of amazing that I only watched DONNIE BRASCO for the first time this week.
My only complaint about DONNIE BRASCO is that it's too short and light. Another fifteen minutes of screen time would have deepened the characters immensely. DONNIE BRASCO doesn't do a great job of capturing the ambience of the late 70s, but it's a relatively minor flaw in an otherwise impressive picture. Overall, with its renditions of petty thievery, (breaking open parking meters for change), cheap shot extortion (putting muscle on Mom-and-Pop corner grocery stores for a few hundred bucks a week) and constant pointless but violent arguments, the timbre of DONNIE BRASCO reflects [[ASIN:B000286RP2 Mean Streets]] more than [[ASIN:B0018CMJSU The Godfather]].
There's no romance in DONNIE BRASCO's Mafia. Depp plays Federal Agent Joe Pistone, who is tasked with infiltrating the Bonnanno Family in late 1970s New York City. Using the alias "Donnie Brasco," Pistone befriends low-level torpedo Lefty Ruggerio (Al Pacino), who is permanently rooted near the bottom of the Family food chain. The dynamic "Brasco" however, soon attracts the attention of crew boss Sonny "Black" Napolitano (Michael Madsen), who begins moving Brasco (and himself) up through the ranks. A disappointed Lefty is left behind, although Brasco/Pistone tries mightily to maintain his links with Lefty if for no other reason than they've become friends.
The strain of leading his double life puts Pistone at terrible risk. His marriage collapses and his personal family life becomes a shambles. He begins to adopt street talk, to hit his wife, and to put his Family before his family. He is forced into committing minor crimes as part of his cover, and assists in chopping up and burying the bodies after a hit. He's recognized by a law-and-order colleague whom he punches out in order to protect himself. Still, there is much in the camaraderie of the Family that Pistone appreciates. Eventually, as he tells his wife, "I'm not like them---I am them." Just as he's about to become a made guy, the FBI swoops in and arrests everyone, shutting down his undercover operation.
Pistone's activities send roughly one hundred mobsters to jail, and earn him a medal, a commendation, and a $500.00 bonus check, and a deep ambivalence toward his work and his life.
After watching DONNIE BRASCO, I found myself questioning whether, given the crummy quality of the mob as portrayed, the risk and expense of breaking up "organized crime" was at all worth it. It seems like a lot of effort for a few dozen yards of chintz.