Donnie Brasco Mike Newell

I had avoided Donnie Brasco for years — the idea of a gangster movie from the director of Four Weddings and a Funeral seemed like a losing proposition — and my bewilderment only intensified when it became a cult hit. Well, it finally caught up to me and surprise, it’s terrific. This fact-based film stars Johnny Depp as Joe Pistone, a G-man who under the code name "Donnie Brasco” infiltrated a mafia crew through the auspices of fading hit man Lefty Ruggiero (Al Pacino). The job was only supposed to take six months but six years later Pistone was still trapped and moving further away from his beleaguered wife (Anne Heche) and children while constantly risking his life. Worse, Lefty treated the alleged gangster like a son, which played havoc with Pistone’s head as well as with his loyalties. Paul Attanasio’s screenplay gets most of the credit for the film’s success. Unlike most of its peers, the script isn’t obsessed with hammering plot points home; it’s more interested in dropping you into the mafia environment and, like the protagonist, letting you sink or swim. Plus, the character of Lefty comes off as hugely tragic (especially as played by the one-time Godfather), an aging failure who’s poignant even in his more brutal moments. You keep waiting for the clichés to arrive but they never do — there’s always something interesting going on in this movie and it’s gripping from the first frame to the last. Offered in a new cut with 20 minutes of extra footage, I obviously can’t comment on the differences but for what it’s worth, I didn’t find it overlong. Extras include a new featurette that’s mostly Newell and Pistone raving about the cast, the more promotional 1997 featurette and a photo gallery. (Sony)