Donnie Brasco? You Must Be Joking

Donnie Brasco. Something about the mafia? With Al Pacino and Johnny Depp? Often included in lists of great mobster movies? I wondered why I’d never seen it.

Now I know.

It must have had the stink on it when first it opened, and I must have smelled it. I should have trusted my younger nose.

1997-donnie-brasco-poster1Donnie Brasco (’97) is a movie impossible to take seriously. It took me at least the first half hour to convince myself this wasn’t some kind of spoof. It makes Johnny Dangerously look gritty by comparison. It’s all bright happy colors in cliché ‘90s style, yet it’s set in the ‘70s. It looks like MafiaWorld at Disneyland.

The characters are cartoons, played by Michael Madsen and Bruno Kirby, among others. Al Pacino is woefully miscast as a sadsack hitman or something. Pacino has a hard time playing low-status no matter what he’s in, but when no one’s status in the movie is clarified, it’s impossible; Pacino is Pacino, a high-status bad-ass. Only actually he’s not? I guess? No one’s really playing a character in here. They’re only playing types. So no one knows how to behave around anyone else. They’re just, generally, “mobsters,” doing “mobster stuff.”

Mobsters doing their thing

Mobsters doing their thing

Lefty (Pacino) decides to talk up some random guy at a bar, Donnie Brasco (Depp). Why? No idea. He needs a new buddy, maybe? Brasco, of course, is an FBI man, a genius, apparently. Just by getting a drink at the right bar, his target falls in love in with him.

Not a single scene has any weight because no meaning is given to anything anyone’s up to. So Lefty is called to some kind of sit-down, but hey—maybe it means he’s going to be shot. So am I supposed to feel tension? Is Pacino going to be taken out by someone we’ve yet to meet ten minutes into the movie? Turns out, no. Exciting.

Wacky scene at home

Wacky scene at home

Or later, our hero gang goes to meet the bad guy gang, but the bad guys are going to shoot them, but then the good guys shoot the bad guys. Might have been interesting if we’d known any of this was being planned, or what the stakes were, or why we should care.

The whole movie is just cliché upon cliché. All the scenes you’re supposed to have in your FBI-man-undercover-movie are in here, but none have any drama attached to them. It’s just a movie going through the motions, as though meant only to remind you of what movies like this look like, without actually being one.

Stranger still, it’s based on a real-life FBI agent’s memoirs. All of this fake nonsense actually happened. Which goes to show you how meaningless source material is. Movies aren’t good or bad, fake or realistic, because of where their stories come from. Their quality is all in the making. Donnie Brasco is written by Paul Attanasio and directed by Mike Newell. An IMDB check reminds me I haven’t liked a single movie either has had a hand in.

Donnie Brasco is pointless and boring and, in the end, not half as funny as Johnny Dangerously. If you’re yearning for something not to watch, Donnie Brasco is it. Hell, I could not watch Donnie Brasco for a week straight. It’s that bad.

Hey, it's a lion, fugeddaboutit

Hey, it’s a lion, fugeddaboutit

9 responses on “Donnie Brasco? You Must Be Joking

  1. Mike Newell survives off Four Weddings and a Funeral, a film I would have sworn was directed by Richard Curtis.

    I saw a pre-release version of Donnie Brasco. Sorry to hear it didn’t get any better after my audience feedback card was taken into consideration.

    • Sir, it was your responsibility as a preview audience member to ensure your voice was heard. May this cinematic debacle weigh heavily upon your shoulders!

    • I’m well aware it’s been called such. Hence my finally watching it. But why? What appeals?

      • It’s well acted, written, directed and produced. Pacino is in top form, and Depp, who often relies on annoying tics, keeps it in check here and turns in a solid performance – at times, he made me forget it was Depp. And, Bruno Kirby is terrific.
        It tells a real life tale in a way that seems more believable than most ‘true crime’ stories. Compelling and entertaining without being preachy or overdone as to belie the reality of what happened.
        Director Newell has had his share of disappointments, but FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL, DANCE WITH A STRANGER, and ENCHANTED APRIL are all fine films. And, he did do one of the two best Harry Potter films with GOBLET. Writer Attanasio who you also dissed, has two (deserved) Oscar nominations for BRASCO, as well as QUIZ SHOW and co-created House M.D. for TV. Not a bad trio.
        BRASCO has a sold 7.8 rating on imdb and an 87% positive on Rotten Tomatoes, so mine isn’t exactly a minority opinion. I think it’s an excellent film. Fuggetaboutit. Or, don’t.

        • Well, yes, there we are. Merely a matter of disagreeing completely. It happens. Clearly everyone involved has had hits and earned awards and so on. And I know Brasco is highly spoken of. Hence my watching it. But man, everything about it rubbed me wrong. For late ’90s Johnny Depp, I’ll stick with Dead Man.

  2. Saw this movie once. I sat their slackjawed at how incompetent the movie was. How boring. How silly. How slow. How terribly shot. How lazily acted. It’s just… terrible. Like I don’t remember one single thing about it. Maybe Johnny Depp and Anne Heche have sex on the stairs? Or maybe I wished they would?

    I am constantly confused as to why people adore this movie and mention it. But I have noticed that they all say the same thing — it’s great. But no one ever talks about a scene. And no one certainly quotes it. A true sign that the movie doesn’t really crackle. It’s like kale. People claim to love it, but they inwardly only eat it because they’re supposed to and want to seem cool by saying how their kale and dirt smoothie is so much better than my milk shake. Yeah, you go on thinking that.

    Even the dude above — what do you LIKE about? The performances? Please… Doesn’t even come close to something like RESERVOIR DOGS or even PULP FICTION (both problematic in their own ways). How about FRENCH CONNECTION? MIDNIGHT RUN is a more compelling examination of the relationship between corrupt cops and the mob, fer crissake.

    Jesus, I’ve spent more time thinking about this movie this morning over coffee than the people who made this movie. They just relied on cliches, cache and the gullibility of the haughty cinematic audience.

    But make no mistake — it’s a turd.

    • Indeed. I would be curious to hear why anyone thinks it’s so grand. It’s just so very…empty.

      • My guess: people like it because Pacino plays a sad sack and that’s surprising. Not good, but surprising. I actually have the DVD somewhere for reasons I cannot explain. I have never put it on. It’s always felt like Carlito’s Way to me; just another mob film I’m supposed to like because it’s a mob film.

        But then I also think the Pacino Scarface is dreadful, granted in a comical, dated way.

  3. I found this thread by searching Johnnie Depp Donnie Brasco miscast!

    This is a great story(Joe Pistone) but terrible casting. I would Love to see it done over with a decent everything, cast, director, etc. Pacino– I ain’t Snake Charmed like most people are. Godfather, then he should have quit IMO. He was awesome as Jack Kevorkian though. Johnie Depp does crazy characters, that’s about it. Serious Drama ain’t his strong suite.

    Let’s get them to do it over and do it right.

    • Indeed. Everything about this movie needs to be erased. Surely someone could make a better version. On the other hand, I feel like I could live a happy life without seeing any more mob stories.

      As for Pacino, it sounds like you need to watch Dog Day Afternoon, stat.

Yeah, well, you know, that's just, like, your opinion, man.