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Laramie Movie Scope:
Donnie Brasco

One of the great gangster movies

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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August 29, 1999 -- I generally don't like gangster movies because of all the graphic violence, but of the few I've seen, "Donnie Brasco" is one of the very best.

Besides being very violent, gangster films are also depressing because they concern organizations that live on long past the lives of the people who belong to them, organizations which corrupt people, chew them up and spit them out. These films seem to exude a sense of melancholy determinism. Worse, the films often depict the police and FBI employing tactics as underhanded as their criminal enemies. The result of all of this is often less than entertaining.

"Donnie Brasco," however, is a brilliantly-acted perfect character study of two men thrown together in the unholy mix of the Mafia and undercover law enforcement work. Donnie Brasco (real name, Joe Pistone), an undercover FBI agent, is perfectly played by Johnny Depp (who stars in "The Astronaut's Wife"). He is matched by Al Pacino ("Devil's Advocate") who gives an equally great performance as the down-on-his-luck mob underling, Lefty Ruggiero.

Brasco gains the confidence of Ruggiero and works his way into the organization. He becomes friends with Ruggiero and his family. As he works his way up the organization, he leaves the hapless Ruggiero behind. He finds he has a knack for mob business and begins to lose himself in the part he is playing. He begins to lose his wife and children and even begins to lose the FBI.

The morality of what he is doing troubles him and he tries to make things right with his friend, Ruggiero. As the story winds its way down to its inevitable conclusion, that sense of destiny hangs over the film like a dark cloud. The final parting shot of Ruggiero putting his few pitiful belongings in a drawer is poignant indeed.

I don't know if I can emphasize enough how much I enjoyed the fine performances of Depp and Pacino. Michael Madsen, who plays gangster Sonny Black, again shows the menace that he showed in "Reservoir Dogs." The screenplay by Joseph D. Pistone, based on his book about his own real life story and by Richard Woodley, is also excellent, as is the direction by Mike Newell ("Pushing Tin"). This film rates an A.

Click here for links to places to buy this movie in video and/or DVD format, the soundtrack, books, even used videos, games and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 1999 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)