Friday, December 22, 2017
DONNIE BRASCO (1997)
Directed By: Mike Newell
Written By: Paul Attanasio
Based On The Book By: Joseph D. Pistone & Richard Woodley
Cinematography By: Peter Sova
Editor: Jon Gregory
Cast: Johnny Depp, Al Pacino, Anne Heche, Michael Madsen, Bruno Kirby, James Russo, Zeljko Ivanek, Zach Grenier, Gretchen Mol, Tim Blake Nelson, Paul Giamatti,
An FBI undercover agent infiltrates the mob and finds himself identifying more with the mafia life, at the expense of his regular one. This film seems set apart from the supposed usual gangster dramas. Maybe because it's more about the difficulties of going undercover aspect of the scenario more Han the mob wars and community. So that is seems a bit more elegant and not asking you necessarily to go with the mobsters and presenting them more as the heroes or at least the leads we care about.
The film get's extra interest as it reminds one of the show that got Johnny Depp started on the road to stardom in the first place 21 JUMP STREET with a character going undercover to take down an illegal organization. Though on that show his character was busting high school students. He starred in the movie after actors such as Andy Garcia, Tom Cruise, John Travolta, John Cusack, Alec Baldwin, and Nicolas Cage. Were either considered, offered or dropped out of the role. Just as Joe Pesci was considered for Al Pacino’s in the films early Stages.
This movie has the look and feel of a down and dirty Sidney Lumet film with a certain polish. Not ss gritty but as close as Hollywood has come in a while. Though takes place in a similar battlefield of the underworld in New York, but this is not a film by Sidney Lumet. It's a film directed by the British director Mike Newell who has had more of a background of romantic comedies like FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL. Not only is this film a crime drama which is a departure for him but it is also a departure of sorts for it's star Johnny Depp.
This was one of his first attempts at the time of a more traditional straight mainstream leading role. Straight meaning no eccentricities, no character tics. Just a normal regular acting job. but it feels the closest to Depp playing more of a real life character without any quirks and plays the role more close to the vest and believable with the internal conflicts he is feeling.
This film has the usual undercover cop movie cliches that usually are found in this type of film. Where the character worries about losing himself and identity as they get closer to the people they are supposed to bust or who are supposed to be their enemies. Why do I find myself more drawn and comfortable to these guys I'm supposed to be busting. How is my family coping with me away from home in all this time. Which actually is one of the films more original aspects seeing how his family copes with his absence. As well as the father and son relationship that develops between Al Pacino's gangster and Depp's undercover agent that is really the film's heart.
This movie is based in a true story, though as before some of the story and scenes play out cliches but what really thrusts the movie forward are the performances. Johnny Depp is amazing as usual playing it safe for a change though makes his normal character so appealing. That it shows his versatility that he can play a wide spectrum of characters. So vividly sometimes without doing too much. He can make a lot out of a little. The other great performance that pushes the film is Al Pacino his character seems to be having his own Shakespearean tragedy played out before him. You could call him a Willy loman-ish character from DEATH OF A SALESMAN. Living out his own personal tragedy just when things look promising. Only this time set in the 70's. This character is so far from the way Al Pacino usually overacts. It reminds you of what an excellent actor he is and sometimes can still be.
Even the recognizable name actors with lesser roles do wonders with what little they have. Paul Giamatti has an amusing scene. Michael Madsen is effective as a gangster,who is the mobster Depp and Pacino serve under. He plays it like he was born to, surprised he doesn't get more roles of this type. Anne Heche is coldly emotional but makes her mark and stands out amongst he mostly male cast as Donnie Brasco's wife. The film avoids the usual tropes and vices these types of film can get distracted by affairs, sex, violence, drugs they are more dealt with, but more in the background.
The film does introduce some memorable phrases that are old but due for a comeback fuhgedaboutit, and fugazi. Which also shows you the strength of the films writing.
The film doesn’t have the gritty ambivalence of the crime underworld that feels nihilistic, but it doesn’t romanticize the lifestyle either. Now this is a great film. not a good film or an excellent film, but a great film. That while it might seem basic and familiar has a dramatic center that is more all it's own. Definitely worth owning in your film library or at least a film that will make you want to view multiple times. It will move you and you won't soon forget.