Johnny Depp, who has suddenly seen his star power skyrocket with his Oscar-nominated performance in Pirates of the Caribbean, stars in Donnie Brasco, a 1997 mob drama about the true story of FBI Agent Joe Pistone, who, under the guise of Donnie Brasco, infiltrates a mafia faction to collect evidence.
Depp is terrific in the lead, playing the morally conflicted agent who is forced to do his job despite finding the investigation more than gray in a few places. He brings true depth to a character that in any fictional setting would be given much less, and is as realistic as they come.
Countering Depp's character and performance is Al Pacino, who is also stupendous as a small-time gangster named Lefty, the man responsible for allowing Pistone to creep his way into the mafia network. At times it is a little hard to handle Pacino as a small-time crook, as he is just as overpowering as in films where he plays, say, the Godfather. Nevertheless, he also creates a moving character that provides the central conflict in the story - where is the line between professionalism and friendship? The soul of the movie is about the relationship between Lefty and Pistone - Pistone is troubled by the fact that when he does present all of his evidence, Lefty, his true friend that trusts him dearly, will be the one to take the fall.
Aside from the acting, Donnie Brasco is well done in other areas, though it does struggle to keep a good pace at times. There are a few scenes that could have been shaved off for the sake of keeping the story running; toward the end, the film is continuing to delve deep into the characters when it has already firmly established them - some moments seem superfluous and unnecessary.
Donnie Brasco is a moving and realistic depiction of a true mafia story, but it may be a bit slow and slightly uneventful for those interested in fictional mafia movies.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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