17 September 2004 | rbverhoef
Depp and Pacino in terrific movie
For some reason a Johnny Depp movie is always interesting. Whether it is a biopic about Ed Wood, a dark fairy tale about a man with scissors instead of hands, a movie about the greatest lover the world has ever known or a adventurous story about pirates, Depp's performance alone makes it worth seeing. Here he plays FBI-agent Joe Pistone who goes undercover using the name Donnie Brasco. He becomes a wiseguy with the help of Lefty (Al Pacino), who is sort of a loser wiseguy who desperately needs to be a mentor because most of his mafia family members look down on him. Donnie comes as a gift from heaven and it does not take long before Lefty trusts Donnie completely. The problem for FBI-agent Donnie is that he's starting to like Lefty as well.
The movie is a gangster movie but has its focus on the relationship between Lefty and Donnie and sometimes on other relationships. Donnie, or Joe, is married to Maggie (Anne Heche) who he hardly sees. He can not exactly tell her what he is doing and sometimes stays away for a couple of weeks. She pretends she is a widow to deal with it. We also learn about the relationships in the mafia family, including new boss Sonny (Michael Madsen).
The fact that this movie is more about the people and their relationships than about the events is a good thing. Sure movies like 'Goodfellas' are terrific but to see something a little different from time to time is nice as well. If you make a movie about people and their emotions you need to have some good performers to make the scenes believable. I already mentioned Depp but of course we have Pacino here as well. His Lefty is a memorable character and it is Pacino who makes sure that happens, but the fact that Depp is as good and especially believable as heavyweight Pacino says something. Of course we have Madsen who was probably the only right actor for the macho mobster Sonny.
Director Mike Newell seems to be a strange choice for this sometimes very violent and bloody story since he directed the terrific but sweet 'Four Weddings and a Funeral'. Fortunately it turns out he is the right man for this material, probably because its real subject is not gangsters but, like I said before, the relationships between the characters. 'Donnie Brasco' has enough to offer for people who like the gangster-genre, but even if you are normally not a big fan there is still a chance you might like it.