Friday, May 8, 2009

Donnie Brasco

(Not so) fresh from the underwhelming film year called 1997, comes a nice little mob movie ...

(Photo pulled from my browser's home page)

It's not brilliant, Donnie Brasco -- the based-on-a-true-story story of an undercover FBI man (Johnny Depp) who infiltrates a segment of the New York mafia through a likable small-time hood (Al Pacino; rarely has he been better). It's small and subdued and sometimes slow. But it gets most things right*.

*Even Anne Heche's Nagging Wife character ends up serving a purpose, rather than just being there so the filmmakers could create a large female role without having to exert themselves too much in the writing process.

What's best is that it never sensationalizes, never romanticizes*, and never becomes slave to a derivative plot. It's not as purely gripping/intense/brilliant as Goodfellas, the greatest of all mob movies, but it's not trying to be. It's a character study first and last, a study of two guys who are mostly decent despite this world of crime surrounding them.

*Unlike one of the most overrated movies of all time.

The cast works well, too, beyond Depp and Pacino and Heche -- best among the bit players are Paul Giamatti and Tim Blake Nelson as FBI operatives. Also, Brasco deserves points for not letting the Michael Madsen character (a quasi-boss) become a stunt casting; he so easily could have turned into a vicious Mr. Blonde, but instead he's just another mafia honcho with understandable anger issues.

Sure, as movies go, the mob scene is pretty much played at this point. But as long as they're made thoughtfully, like Brasco, the genre needn't be completely closed to submissions.

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