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Volume 90, Issue 84
Wednesday, March 05, 1997
Another Goodfellas clone? Forget about it
Gazette file photo
HEY LOOK, I GOT A COUPLE OF HAMBURGERS HERE IN MY POCKET. Johnny Depp and Al Pacino show off Macy's latest styles in the new Mafia film, Donnie Brasco.
Starring Al Pacino and Johnny Depp
Directed by Mike Newell
At 7:05 and 10:00 p.m.
Tony Montana. Ricky Roma. Michael Corleone. Carlito Bragante. Lieutenant Frank Slade. There is no limit to Al Pacino's versatility or refined intensity, a fact thoroughly endorsed by his newest venture, Donnie Brasco.
Based on the true-life story of the mob-informant of the same name, Pacino plays Lefty Two Guns in a role quite removed from those in his recent films. Gone is the invincibility he pasted on in Heat or Glengarry Glen Ross. Missing is the invulnerability of Frank Slade in Scent of a Woman.
Pacino is a pitiful wise guy who's been hustling the streets for 30 years and has received no recognition from his peers despite "the 27 stiffs [he's] clipped." Powerful and energetic, yet melancholic in a satiric way, Lefty is cowardly. No one reproduces that effect better than Pacino.
Despite all that, he cannot come close to rivaling the performance of Johnny Depp as Joe Pistone, a.k.a. Donnie Brasco. The most talented of the '80s brat-packers, Depp has relentlessly attempted to shed his 21 Jump Street pretty-boy image by going as far as donning scissors on his hands and wearing angora sweaters and dresses. It's quite ironic that his long-overdue credit as an actor comes with his portrayal of an undercover cop a role that garnered him that original image.
Depp is a commanding presence on screen, even so when holding a two-shot with heavyweight Pacino. His face alone is mystical without being blank you never quite know what he's thinking. The action is all in his eyes and he speaks measures in a flutter an endowment no doubt learned from his more experienced counterpart. Convincing because he becomes what he portrays, his story is a struggle to retain his family life and to stay connected so as not to get Lefty, who has vouched for him, pinched.
Unlike Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas and Brian De Palma's Carlito's Way, to which Donnie Brasco bears visual resemblance, the film in fact is nothing like either of the aforementioned. This isn't a gangster film. It's is a movie about people forced to live by the rules they take on. Donnie's family is forced to live without him. He is forced to live by the FBI's restrictions and Lefty has to live with the conventions of the wise guys.
It is as much a buddy film as it is a drama about a struggling marriage and therein lies its attraction. It's the kind of movie that makes you root for the Mafioso, a feature director Mike Newell learned well from Martin Scorsese.
Joe Pistone (the real-life Donnie Brasco) lives in seclusion and secrecy somewhere in the world. But you can't help wondering if he was forced to pull out of the undercover sting too soon or if he ever wanted to be pulled out. Newell makes a strong novella an even stronger film, though in the end, Depp and Pacino must take large credit for the movie's success.
This one is no fugazi, definitely worth your fazules.
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Copyright © The Gazette 1997