Newest Reviews:

New Movies -  

The Tunnel


The Tall Man

Mama Africa





Brownian Movement

Last Ride

[Rec]³: Genesis

Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai

Indie Game: The Movie

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Old Movies -

Touki Bouki: The Journey of the Hyena

Drums Along the Mohawk

The Chase

The Heiress

Show People

The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry



Miracle Mile

The Great Flamarion

Dark Habits

Archives -

Recap: 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 , 2005, 2006, 2007 , 2008 , 2009 , 2010 , 2011 , 2012

All reviews alphabetically

All reviews by star rating

All reviews by release year


Screening Log



E-mail me




Donnie Brasco (Mike Newell) 1997   

    Donnie Brasco was an unlikely feature for director Mike Newell to produce, coming after such successes as Enchanted April and Four Weddings and a Funeral, but, against all odds, it’s one of the most moving and insightful gangster films ever made. Surely a lot of the credit has to go to Paul Attanasio, who imbues the film with the same moral ambiguities and fierce intelligence that graced his script for Quiz Show. The cast helps a good deal too. Newell coaxes stunning turns from Al Pacino, Johnny Depp, and Anne Heche, all of them at least as good as they’ve ever been elsewhere. Ultimately, though, it seems that Newell’s sure hand is to blame for the solidness of the film. Rarely does the film overstate itself. The period detail is rich and specific without ever becoming gaudy or overdone. The somber tone of the film is enriched by the decidedly cloudy look that was chosen. Even Miami looks run down here, sapping a lot of the sense of glamour that other gangster films have indulged.   

    Frankly, I prefer Donnie Brasco on many levels to the inflated operatic tragedy that is The Godfather. Since Donnie Brasco is an undercover agent who flirts with going native, the audience is put repeatedly in a place where they can sympathize with the mobsters, but never burdened as strong a feeling that they are truly honorable just because they exhibit some honorable characteristics. A minor false note emerges in the caricature that is Donnie’s commanding officer, and his presence seems to tip the scales a bit unfairly toward resenting the authorities, but the authentic presence of Donnie’s long-suffering wife grounds many of those feelings. When the film finally shows the result of violence on screen, it’s notably and responsibly because of Donnie’s complicity, and the film allows us to see the complexity inherent in a character who has to do a lot of bad things to do right. 

    We rarely get a romanticized perception of mafia life here, but that doesn’t keep us from sympathizing with Pacino’s character. His performance as goombah to Donnie is exceptionally rich, and his complex combination of pride and shame about who he is makes him far more human than his characterizations might initially allow us to think. He’s a human first and a mobster second, which is about the highest praise you can give to a performance in a movie of this sort.  Emotions are exceptionally charged here, and the cloying score makes sure we know that, but somehow the dam never bursts. Especially during the understated ending, Newell keeps the film tightly reigned in and the reality and scope of Donnie’s sacrifices never seem far away. 



Jeremy Heilman