Perhaps the freshest gangster movie since THE GODFATHER, PART II, as well as the glummest. FBI agent Joe Pistone (Johnny Depp) infiltrates the mob via a disgruntled, middle-aged, low-level Mafioso named Lefty (Al Pacino), who sees in Pistone's
undercover persona -- orphaned Donnie Brasco, a shrewd but honest operator with heart -- the son he wishes he had. Pistone learns the organization inside out, eventually burrowing in so deep that the danger of being unmasked takes a back seat to the danger of being killed by rival mobsters for his
organized crime alliances. With acceptance comes the inevitable crisis of conscience, as Pistone drifts further and further away from his so-called real life: His wife and kids become strangers, and the uptight FBI higher-ups don't understand the toll that living a day-in, day-out lie takes on a
man's sense of self. The most striking thing about English director Mike Newell's film is how clear it is that the whole mythology of the Mafia leaves him cold. There's no sense of exhilaration in putting one over on the law, no warmth in the famiglia, no real honor among hoods and no
hopped-up intensity in violence: It's all dangerous and arbitrary and ugly, even before it all goes wrong. Depp's tight, guarded performance is almost painful to watch, and Newell seems to have reined in the flamboyant Pacino, whose portrait of the mobster as a grumpy old woman may be his
best work in years.
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