Blu-Ray Review – Donnie Brasco

The ’90s had a great run of crime dramas Tarantino completely reinvented the genre, and by the late ’90s his style was being aped by lesser filmmakers like Troy Duffy with The Boondock Saints. The decade was kicked off by quite possibly the greatest mob film ever made, Goodfellas, which of course had Robert De Niro. Al Pacino and his compatriot De Niro are now basically laughing stocks because of their late ’90s and noughties career choices, but in the 80s both were still tuning in great performances.

Donnie Brasco feels like a masterful swan song when it comes to the gangster roles Pacino is best known for, which empathized by his character’s final moment. Pacino is an actor who is much more than someone who plays gangsters, of course, as can also be said for De Niro. Hopefully the upcoming The Irishman, directed by Martin Scorsese and teaming them up again, will be a return to form for both of them. Similarly, Johnny Depp hassince his role as Captain Jack Sparrow chosen some questionable roles. One of his wiser choices was Black Mass, however, a clear attempt to recapture the magic of his title role in Donnie Brasco, although on the opposite side of the law. Depp was really unbeatable in the ’90s, his next role after Donnie Brasco was the equally great but radical 360-degree turn in Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas.

Brasco was an FBI infiltrator during the ’70s and ’80s. In the film he befriends Lefty Ruggiero (Al Pacino) and soon becomes so wrapped up in mob life that he completely gets the mob’s trust. However, his home life falls apart while he is undercover. Can he survive it –and if he leaves, will Lefty?

The film was directed by Mike Newell, who is perfectly competent behind the helm despite the fact that he somehow was chosen after directing Four Weddings and a Funeral. How a frothy British rom-con led the producer to him and how he ended up then directing a rock-solid crime drama is beyond me, but hey, it was successful. Originally another British director, Stephen Frears, was attached as director with Tom Cruise as Brasco, who would’ve been completely the wrong choice.

Newell gets phenomenal performances from Pacino, who brings a damaged and vulnerability to his role, and Depp, who looks like the real Donnie and completely loses himself in his character.

Anne Heche plays Brasco’s wife, who is solid in what could be a thankless role—this was at the time that she was tipped to be a leading lady, a trajectory that was stopped by homophobic executives when her relationship with Ellen DeGeneres been a scandal. The supporting cast is led by Michael Madsen in one of his better roles outside of the films of Tarantino. The rest of the supporting cast is full of character actors who viewers will recognise, because they’ve been in everything. It also boasts small early roles for Tim Blake Nelson and Paul Giamatti as FBI technicians.

Little White Lies just published the article “Is Donnie Brasco the last truly great American gangster movie?” That assessment might be a bit of an overstatement, but it certainly was the last great one of the ’90s. In either the theatrical or longer extended cut, it moves at a solid pace and is never dull. It also is by far the finest film about a mob infiltrator, and clearly influenced last year’s The Infiltrator.

Turbine’s set comes in a nice mediabook and includes the film on two Blu-rays, one for each cut, plus a DVD copy of the film. The release includes all the features found on different releases around the world, from short interviews to longer featurettes, so it’s a really definitive package. It comes in two different mediabook designs: I personally prefer the black one that replicates the original poster.

★★★★½

Ian Schultz

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