Top 365 Films – #227 – Donnie Brasco (1997)

Top 365 Films - Donnie BrascoDIRECTED BY: Mike Newell

STARRING: Johnny Depp, Al Pacino, Michael Madsen, Bruno Kirby, Anne Heche, James Russo, Željko Ivanek, Gerry Becker, Andrew Parks, Brian Tarantina, Rocco Sisto and Robert Miano

BUDGET: $35m

EARNED (Worldwide): $124.9m

AWARDS: None (Oscar Nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay)



An FBI undercover agent infiltrates the mob and finds himself identifying more with the mafia life to the expense of his regular one.


Donnie Brasco is based on the true story of FBI agent Joe Pistone, who infiltrates the New York mafia under the alias Donnie Brasco as he’s befriended by mobster Lefty Ruggiero. As time goes by, Pistone begins to identify and care for his mafia friends, especially Lefty, while his marriage over time begins to fall apart. The real dilemma that Pistone sees in all of is knowing that if he walks away from the mafia, Lefty will be killed because of him.


Donnie Brasco is a mob film unlike many in its genre. It’s not full on the glamour and violent of certain mobster films, it’s much more quiet, whingy and more about friendship than anything else. By quiet I mean it’s more talkative piece rather than cut to several action sequences. By whingy I mean everyone moans of their failures of what they expected to achieve at some level within the mob and even one moans when he gets bumped up a notice that he has to pay $50,000 a month to the guy above him and a group as a whole complains that business is bad. By friendship I mean the relationship that builds and forms between Donnie Brasco and Lefty Ruggiero, which is primarily the main focus point of the film and its biggest strength. Lefty is a man who’s on the ‘downfall’ of his life as a mobster, having to deal with the fact that his career in the mob is going nowhere, deal with cancer and his junkie son. All Lefty really wants is for someone to listen to him and here enters Donnie to the fold after an encounter in a coffee shop which leaves Lefty feeling disrespected and having to remind Donnie that he’s a ‘known’ guy aka ‘Lefty from Mulberry Street’. Then from here begins Lefty becoming a mentor for Donnie and it is definitely one of Al Pacino’s best understated roles, when he strips the character down to a man losing daily importance and meaning that he has amongst those around him and begins to get paranoid at times in the process (at one point believing he’s going to get whacked…only to find out he’s getting a pet lion….as you do). Donnie Brasco also just happens to be my favourite performance of Johnny Depp’s as the man who is put into the mob to infiltrate them and slowly and surely he’s sucked into their world and we witness the inner torment he has to deal with in particular scenarios and more importantly, developing this bond with Lefty and trying to piece together how to help him get out before it’s too late. The supporting cast is fine to with Michael Madsen as Sonny Black, Bruno Kirkby as Nicky and Anna Heche as Maggie Pastone.


FAVOURITE SCENE: Donnie enters with the gang at the Japanese restaurant and realises that it’s custom that they remove their shoes, only in his case that’s where he has the wiretap placed. How far would you go to save face?

FAVOURITE QUOTE: ‘”Forget about it” is, like, if you agree with someone, you know, like “Raquel Welch is one great piece of ass. Forget about it!” But then, if you disagree, like “A Lincoln is better than a Cadillac? Forget about it!” You know? But then, it’s also like if something’s the greatest thing in the world, like, “Minghia! Those peppers! Forget about it!” But it’s also like saying “Go to hell!” too. Like, you know, like “Hey Paulie, you got a one-inch pecker?” and Paulie says “Forget about it!” Sometimes it just means “Forget about it.”’ – Donnie Brasco

DID YOU KNOW?: To prepare for his role, Johnny Depp met with the actual Joseph D. Pistone a number of times, and took shooting lessons from the FBI.

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