Starring: Al Pacino, Johnny Depp, Michael Madsen
Director: Mike Newell
Running Time: 127 mins
Donnie Brasco is an American film about an ageing mafia member who brings a prodigy into his firm, unaware that he is an FBI informant.
Despite its A-list cast and undeniably captivating story, I still wouldn’t place Donnie Brasco in the upper echelon of great gangster movies. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good watch, and leads Al Pacino and Johnny Depp are great throughout, but the movie lacks a certain style and charism that the very best movies of the genre have in bucketloads.
For the most part, Donnie Brasco is at least familiar with the big gangster movies of the ’90s that you know, particularly Scorsese’s Goodellas and Casino. As well as starring some of the same personalities, the movie is full of tender emotion, following the story of an ageing mobster who brings his prodigy through the ranks.
Of course, the deception of Johnny Depp’s young Donnie Brasco being an FBI informant lingers over the story, and therein lies the film’s biggest issue. While the movie does have a degree of entertaining and engrossing gangster drama, its main story – the relationship between Pacino and Depp’s characters – is almost spoiled by the way it’s all structured.
Initially, there’s a degree of heartbreaking inevitability about watching the story unfold, as Pacino, playing a high-ranking mobster that has never quite risen to the heights he’s aimed for over his life, is certain to be struck down once his beloved prodigy in Depp eventually rats him out to the FBI.
That emotion, however, falls away about halfway through the movie, as you recognise the inevitability of it, without the pair’s relationship really progressing much. From the start, Pacino and Depp are extremely close, and it remains that way until the finale, meaning that there isn’t all that much for the story to do other than wait for the inevitable conclusion.
A little bit of gangster intrigue as the characters find themselves down in Florida makes for captivating viewing, but the fact of the matter is that Donnie Brasco just doesn’t have the depth to keep you fully enthralled or entertained in the way that the best gangster movies do.
I appreciate that the film wants to distance itself from the more foul-mouthed and violent tendencies of Scorsese movies, tending towards something more tender like Once Upon A Time In America, but the film really doesn’t manage to back that up with a fully engrossing story, proving a disappointing watch particularly in its second half.
In the end, I thought Donnie Brasco was a bit of a mixed bag. Certainly an engaging watch at the start, the film falls away as it almost gives away its main cards too early, making for a tender but ultimately predictable and rather shallow watch. So, that’s why I’m giving the film a 7.3 overall.