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Donnie Brasco (film)

Donnie Brasco
Donnie brasco ver2.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byMike Newell
Produced by
Screenplay byPaul Attanasio
Based onDonnie Brasco: My Undercover Life in the Mafia
by Joseph D. Pistone
Richard Woodley
Music byPatrick Doyle
CinematographyPeter Sova
Edited byJon Gregory
Distributed byTriStar Pictures
Release date
  • February 28, 1997 (1997-02-28)
Running time
127 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$35 million
Box office$124.9 million[1]

Donnie Brasco is a 1997 American crime drama film directed by Mike Newell, and starring Al Pacino and Johnny Depp. Michael Madsen, Bruno Kirby, James Russo, and Anne Heche appeared in supporting roles.

The film is loosely based on the true story of Joseph D. Pistone (Depp), an FBI undercover agent who infiltrated the Mafia Bonanno crime family in New York City during the 1970s, under the alias Donnie Brasco. Brasco maneuvers his way into the confidence of an aging Mafia hitman, Lefty Ruggiero (Pacino), who vouches for him. As Donnie moves deeper into the Mafia, he realizes that not only is he crossing the line between federal agent and criminal, but also leading his friend Lefty to an almost certain death.

It was nominated for an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. The adaptation of the book by Joseph D. Pistone and Richard Woodley was by screenwriter Paul Attanasio.[2] The film was a box office success, earning $124.9 million against a $35 million budget, and receiving critical acclaim.


Aging gangster Benjamin "Lefty" Ruggiero is introduced to a jewel thief named Donnie Brasco. Donnie impresses Lefty by threatening a diamond dealer whom Donnie suspects of selling Lefty a fake ring.

Lefty teaches Donnie the rules of the Mafia and introduces him to several "made men", including Dominick "Sonny Black" Napolitano, Nicky Santora, and caporegime Alphonse “Sonny Red” Indelicato, to whom Lefty owes money and who is disliked by Sonny Black.

Donnie Brasco is revealed to be Joseph D. Pistone, an undercover FBI agent. His wife hates his job, and the couple have heated arguments throughout the film. At home, Pistone's behavior increasingly becomes like that of the criminal he pretends to be.

After the Bonanno family's street boss is killed, Sonny Red assumes the new position, and Sonny Black is promoted to captain, angering Lefty as he provided for Sonny Black's family while the latter was in prison. As the crew runs a series of successful shakedowns and hijackings in Brooklyn, Donnie collects more information for the FBI.

Due to Pistone's success at infiltrating the Mafia, an FBI supervisor from Washington, Dean Blanford, takes an interest in the case. He asks Pistone to incorporate a Miami-based FBI agent, Richard "Richie" Gazzo, into Pistone's operation. Though reluctant, Pistone convinces Sonny Black and crew to meet Gazzo in Miami.

In Miami, Donnie and Lefty plan to run Richie's club on their own and attempt to impress Florida mob boss Santo Trafficante Jr. with a yacht trip. However, Sonny Black had reached out to Trafficante first. Lefty is angry, believing that he lost the nightclub deal because Donnie colluded with Sonny Black. Additionally, Black tells Donnie that he will manage the club for him as an unofficial made man. Donnie later reconciles with Lefty when he goes to New York to console Lefty when his son nearly dies of a drug overdose.

On its opening day, Sonny Black's club is raided by Miami police on orders from Trafficante himself, who is in league with Sonny Red. Suspecting the latter is responsible for the raid, Sonny Black's crew (without Donnie) kill Sonny Red and two other rival gangsters. The crew also kills Nicky, who they found to have been carrying out a narcotics deal without Sonny Black's knowledge and without making payments "up the chain." With Sonny Black becoming the new street boss, Donnie is tasked with finding and killing Sonny Red's son, Bruno.

One last dispute between Donnie and his wife becomes physical. He hits his wife and is then remorseful, telling her "I am not becoming like them, Maggie, I am them."

Knowing he must end his case and make arrests, Donnie tries convincing Lefty to escape his criminal life. However, Lefty confronts Donnie about his suspicions about Donnie working with the FBI: if Donnie does not kill Bruno and prove his loyalties, Lefty will kill Donnie. Before either murder can be committed, FBI agents arrive and arrest them both.

FBI agents reveal Donnie's true identity to Sonny Black and his crew. Lefty goes to his implied death for letting Pistone infiltrate the gang, leaving behind his valuables and telling his girlfriend that he does not resent Donnie. Pistone attends a small private ceremony with his family for his work, being awarded $500 check and a medal.



Louis DiGiaimo, who worked as a casting director for Barry Levinson, was a childhood acquaintance of Joseph D. Pistone, and served as a consultant for his book Donnie Brasco: My Undercover Life in the Mafia. Once the book came out, Levinson's company, Baltimore Pictures, purchased the rights, with screenwriter Paul Attanasio set to write the script. Stephen Frears would direct and Tom Cruise would play Pistone/Brasco. In 1991, the film was postponed due to the release of Goodfellas, as the producers felt there was not enough room for two hyperrealistic Mafia films. When the project was resurrected in 1996, Frears was replaced with Mike Newell, and Johnny Depp was cast as Pistone/Brasco. Al Pacino was the only actor kept from the first attempt to make the film. Pistone was hired as a consultant, helping Depp and Pacino develop their characters.[3][additional citation(s) needed]

Critical reception

Donnie Brasco has received critical acclaim. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 88% of critics have given the film a positive review based on 56 reviews, with an average score of 7.8/10, making the film "Certified Fresh" on the website's rating system. The website's critical consensus reads, "A stark, nuanced portrait of life in organized crime, bolstered by strong performances from Al Pacino and Johnny Depp."[4] At Metacritic, which assigns a weighted mean rating using reviews from mainstream critics, the film received an weighted average score of 76 out of 100, based on 21 reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[5]

Entertainment Weekly called it a "wonderfully dense, clever, and moving gangland thriller," and gave it an A–, also praising Paul Attanasio's screenplay as "a rich, satisfying gumbo of back stabbing, shady business maneuvers, and mayhem."[6] Roger Ebert from the Chicago Sun-Times gave it three and a half stars out of four.[7] Siskel and Ebert gave Donnie Brasco "two thumbs up."[8] Peter Travers of Rolling Stone praised the film, saying that "Donnie Brasco is one terrific movie."[9] Mick LaSalle from the San Francisco Chronicle gave the film a positive review and said that Donnie Brasco was "a first class Mafia thriller."[10]

Critics praised Depp's performance especially: a review hailed Depp's performance as "sensational."[11] New York Magazine called him "graceful" and found his acting highly believable: "We can believe that the mob might take him for a tough, ambitious young hood—he has the wariness and the self-confidence that creates an aura."[12]

According to Charles Taylor in his review for, both Pacino and Depp are "in top form"; in remarking on Pacino's frequent collaborations with younger actors (Sean Penn, John Cusack), Taylor called Donnie Brasco "the best in this series of duets" and singled out Pacino's skills: "His final scene is all the more heartbreaking for the economy of gesture and feeling he brings it. It's an exit that does justice to both the actor and the role, and it leaves an ache in the movie."[11] Entertainment Weekly reserved its highest praise for Pacino: "If Donnie Brasco belongs to any actor, though, it's Al Pacino."[6] The Playlist called it one of Pacino's best performances, writing "though Scent of A Woman, Two Bits and even (relatively) Heat showcased Pacino at his most exuberantly grandiose, Brasco brings him back to a performance of stealth and nuance".[13]

See also


  1. ^ "Donnie Brasco (1997)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved February 13, 2010.
  2. ^ "Nominees & Winners for the 70th Academy Awards | Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences". Retrieved May 6, 2012.
  3. ^ "Donnie Brasco: Out from the Shadows", featurette appearing on Donnie Brasco DVD
  4. ^ "Donnie Brasco (1997)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved February 27, 2018.
  5. ^ "Donnie Brasco Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved February 27, 2018.
  6. ^ a b Gleiberman, Owen (March 17, 1997). "Rev. of Donnie Brasco (1997)". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved December 21, 2009.
  7. ^ "Donnie Brasco". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved June 7, 2010.
  8. ^ "Donnie Brasco". At the Movies. Retrieved June 7, 2010.[dead link]
  9. ^ Peter Travers (February 28, 1997). "Donnie Brasco | Movie Reviews". Rolling Stone. Retrieved May 6, 2012.
  10. ^ Mick LaSalle (February 28, 1997). "Guns and Roses / Pacino, Depp mob thriller `Donnie Brasco' adds love triangle to the payoff". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved June 19, 2011.
  11. ^ a b Taylor, Charles (March 28, 1997). "Donnie Brasco: With Al Pacino and Johnny Depp in top form, "Donnie Brasco" is smarter than the average mob movie". Retrieved August 21, 2014.
  12. ^ Denby, David (March 17, 1997). "Movies: The Sting". New York Magazine. pp. 55–56. Retrieved December 21, 2009.
  13. ^ The Playlist. The Essentials: Al Pacino's Best Performances

External links