Donnie Brasco is a 1997 crime film directed by Mike Newell (Great Expectations, Prince of Persia, Pushing Tin, & Four Weddings and a Funeral). It’s based on the 1988 book “My Undercover Life in the Mafia” written by real life “Donnie Brasco” Joseph D. Pistone & Richard Woodley. It was written by Paul Attanasio (Quiz Show, Sphere, Homicide: Life on the Street, & Disclosure). It was produced by Barry Levinson (OZ, Homicide: Life on the Street, Bugsy, Sleepers, & Analyze That) & Mark Johnson (Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, Rain Man, A Perfect World, & Falcone). It was originally developed in 1991 with Stephen Frears as the director & Tom Cruise as the lead. The 2000 television show Falcone was based off the same true story & book. The budget was $35 million & it grossed $124.9 million worldwide at the box office!!!!
Aging gangster Benjamin “Lefty” Ruggiero (played by: Al Pacino from Heat, The Godfather franchise, Dog Day Afternoon, & Scarface) is introduced to a jewel thief named Donnie Brasco (played by: Johnny Depp from Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Platoon, & Black Mass). Donnie impresses Lefty by threatening a diamond dealer whom Donnie suspects of selling Lefty a fake ring. Lefty teaches Donnie the rules of the Mafia. He introduces him to several “made men” which includes Dominick “Sonny Black” Napolitano (played by: Michael Madsen from Reservoir Dogs, Kill Bill, Species 1/2, & The Hateful Eight), Nicky Santora (played by: Bruno Kirby from City Slickers, One Eyed King, When Harry Met Sally…, & Good Morning, Vietnam), Paulie (played by: James Russo from Beverly Hills Cop, Dangerous Game, Once Upon a Time in America, & The Vineyard), & caporegime Alphonse “Sonny Red” Indelicato (played by: Robert Miano from Fast & Furious, Lansky, Hitman’s Run, & The Funeral). Donnie Brasco is revealed to be Joseph D. Pistone, an undercover FBI agent. His wife Maggie (played by: Anne Heche from Psycho, Wag the Dog, John Q, & The Juror) hates his job & the couple are starting to fall apart. Pistone’s behavior increasingly becomes like that of the criminal he pretends to be.
After the Bonanno family’s street boss is killed, Sonny Red assumes the new position, & Sonny Black is promoted to captain which angers Lefty. FBI supervisor Dean Blanford (played by: Gerry Becker from Spider-Man, Mystery Men, The Game, & Mickey Blue Eyes) takes an interest in the case. He asks Pistone to incorporate a Miami-based FBI agent, Richard “Richie” Gazzo (played by: Rocco Sisto from The Sopranos, Innocent Blood, Carlito’s Way, & Eraser) into Pistone’s operation. In Miami, they attempt to impress Florida mob boss Santo Trafficante Jr. (played by: Val Avery from The Amityville Horror, Cobra, The Pope of Greenwich Village, & Too Scared to Scream) with a yacht trip. Lefty is angry, Black tells Donnie that he will manage the club for him as an unofficial made man. Things go bad in Florida & the crew is suspicious. Suspecting other members of the mob are trying to set them up & one of their own is a snitch, they take action. Sonny Black takes over as the new street boss. He assigns Donnie with a hit on Bruno (played by: Brian Tarantina from The Kitchen, Jacob’s Ladder, Summer of Sam, & The Sopranos) that he must carry out. Lefty confronts Donnie about his true self. Joe doesn’t even recognize himself anymore. Lefty decides to let everything play out for itself knowing his dreadful fate. Is Joe still in there? or Has Donnie Brasco completely taken over????
Donnie Brasco is one of the most under-rated mob movies ever made, Al Pacino & Johnny Depp have amazing chemistry here. Both actors give some of my all time favorite performances in this. Al Pacino is no stranger to crime films but he brought something different to the aging hitman Lefty. It’s nothing like his other gangster characters, you really end up caring about that role. He puts everything on the line for Donnie without any hesitation. During this time, Johnny Depp was usually doing weird roles but this one was very serious. I personally think it’s his greatest performance in his entire career. The script was top notch, it was full of tense moments & hit you with twists with you least expected it. This had a great supporting cast that included Michael Madsen, Bruno Kirby, James Russo, Robert Miano, Anne Heche, Brian Tarantina, Zeljko Ivanek (Oz), Zach Grenier (Deadwood), Gretchen Mol (Boardwalk Empire), Tony Lip (The Sopranos), Larry Romano (The Irishman),Tim Blake Nelson (Watchmen), & Paul Giamatti (The Amazing Spider-Man 2). This true crime story has always been interesting & this production delivered the goods on it. The soundtrack is great for this feature, so many familiar tracks. Sony Pictures personally has never released this theatrical cut on blu ray, they put out the extended cut in 2007 but only had this cut on DVD before Mill Creek stepped in with this. Personally, I prefer this one over the additional 20 minute version. It has a better flow & pace to it. This might be the best movie that Mill Creek has ever released, it’s one of my all time favorites. HIGHLY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!!!!
Let’s talk about the high definition presentation from Mill Creek! They first released this theatrical cut on blu ray in 2014. This 1080p (2.41:1) transfer looks fantastic in this format. It’s a huge upgrade compared to my original DVD. This captures the mob life in every possible way & the cinematography is amazing here. The English: Dolby Digital 5.1 track is great. All the dialogue is very clean, all the chaos is elevated with it’s tension filled moments, & the awesome music has a killer boost to it. I am a huge fan of the score & soundtrack for Donnie Brasco. Unfortunately, none of the special features from the original DVD were carried over on this so you might want to hold on to that if you still own it. As always, Mill Creek Entertainment has reasonable prices so it’s a no brainer when it comes to adding this to your collection. It also comes with a slipcover & a DVD copy of the release. It’s available everywhere right now, CHECK IT OUT!!!!