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Donnie Brasco

Year: 1997
Director: Mike Newell
Writer: Joe Pistone
Cast: Johnny Depp, Al Pacino, Michael Madsen, Anne Heche
A review of the movie at the time it came out said 'Johnny Depp finally grows up', and that sums it up pretty well. Depp's enjoying a renaissance as I write this review, riding high on the crest of the Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl wave.

Donnie Brasco marked something of the culmination of another renaissance for him. At the time we'd only seen him in the sort of Michael Jackson-like, man-boy roles he's still famous for, the ones he seemed to actively seek to shake off the teen heart-throb 21 Jump Street legacy.

After What's Eating Gilbert Grape and Ed Wood, we'd become used to seeing Depp in roles that flew in the face of convention, and for the first time in what seemed like forever, he was playing a real guy with real issues as FBI mole Joe Pistone who burrowed his way into the mob's confidence at the end of the 70s.

Based on the book of the true story, Pistone poses as small time hood Brasco who starts to work his way up the organised crime ladder after being taken under the wing of minor mob matriarch Lefty (Pacino).

Part of the main thrust of the plot – that Pistone starts to identify with his newfound father figure and new cohorts and almost begins to forget which side he's on – hovers in the background of the story. Mostly it's about the tensions of his work, the dislocation from his family it causes, and the fear that rises as the stakes get higher (made flesh in the Japanese restaurant scene). In the hands of two of the most accomplished actors alive, it's gripping, bloodthirsty and sad.

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