Donnie Brasco appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The movie presented some problems but it generally looked good.
Sharpness usually came across as crisp and detailed. Most of the movie offered a picture that was accurate and lacked softness, though some of the wider shots appeared a little fuzzy. I noticed no jags or moiré effects, but I saw light edge enhancement at times. In regard to print flaws, grain could be heavy. I also detected some grit, specks and nicks, but defects weren’t major.
Except for the Florida segments, Donnie Brasco used a pretty restricted palette. As befit the lives of low-level gangsters, we witnessed lots of browns and blacks in the film. What colors we saw - usually neon reds and oranges - looked fairly accurate and well-reproduced, and when the palette became broader in Florida, the variety of hues came across acceptably well. Some of the colors could be a bit muddy; these weren’t severe concerns, but they occurred. Black levels occasionally appeared a little flat and drab, but they were usually solid and deep, and shadow detail seemed appropriately heavy without excessive darkness. Ultimately, Brasco provided a decent picture.
The film featured a decent but generally unspectacular Dolby Digital 5.0 soundtrack. The soundfield for Brasco seemed heavily oriented toward the front channels. Those speakers displayed audio that spread nicely across the forward spectrum and blended well; the front channels appeared lively and active. The surrounds were much less involving, however. I detected adequate use of music from the rear, and occasionally some effects cropped up back there as well; I heard light ambiance and also some loud reinforcement of a few gunshots. However, the track stayed strongly to the front, and the surrounds appeared to be junior partners in the mix.
Audio quality seemed generally solid. At times the dialogue came across as a bit artificial, but speech usually sounded distinct and crisp, with no problems related to intelligibility. Effects were clear and accurate, and on occasion they seemed quite powerful; for example, whenever we heard gunshots, they appeared appropriately loud and accurate and they showed no signs of distortion. The effects offered decent bass response, but the best examples of low-end came from the music, especially when we heard pop songs from the era; as a whole, the score appeared clean and bright, and it provided pretty good dynamic range. The whole package worked well enough to merit a "B".
This special edition of Brasco includes a mix of extras. First up is a running, screen-specific audio commentary from director Mike Newell. The director proves to be a fairly chatty subject, though he starts to run out of material toward the end of the film.
Although Newell offers some good information about the production - especially related to how the main actors got into their roles – he generally just reflects upon the on-screen action. Newell gives us some decent insight at times, but for the most part he just likes to tell us what's happening; at times I wondered if he understood that most listeners already saw the movie. Newell's engaging enough to make the commentary worth a listen, but it needed more solid information; for one, I wish he'd incorporated more details about the true story behind the film.
Speaking of audio tracks, Brasco also includes Patrick Doyle's music all on its own. This isolated score appears in Dolby Digital 5.0 sound. Although I don't often care about movie scores, I always appreciate the inclusion of isolated tracks on DVDs.
Next we get a documentary about the movie. Called Donnie
Brasco: Out From the Shadows, this 23-minute and 50-second program combines recent interviews with Newell, writer Paul Attanasio, producer Louis DiGiaimo, and the real-life Joe Pistone with 1997 snippets from Depp and a mix of film clips and shots from the set. While much of the information is good, the program becomes especially compelling due to the details from Pistone; his remarks give us the factual information I wanted to hear during Newell's commentary. All in all, it's a very solid little documentary.
Deleted Scenes presents five excised clips. These each last between 15 seconds and two minutes and 27 seconds for a total of five and a half minutes of snipped segments plus a 40 second introduction from Newell. We find “Lefty’s New Lion” (1:21), “The Same Shirt” (2:27), “Bigger Bottle” (1:05), “IRS Audit” (0:34) and “Under Pressure” (0:20). The clips themselves are interesting but nothing special, and although he wishes he'd retained some of them, Newell uses his optional commentary to describe why they were removed.
We also find the film's Original Featurette. This program runs for seven minutes and 20 seconds and follows the usual format for this sort of piece: we get a mix of film clips, interview snippets with Newell, Depp, Heche, Bruno Kirby, Michael Madsen, and Pistone, and some shots from the set. Although it clearly offers a promotional view of the movie, it's a decent little program that provides a modest amount of interesting material. It's mostly valuable due to the inclusion of the actors' interviews; these aren't great clips, but since we hear so little of that side of things in the new featurette, the snippets add to the value of this minor but watchable piece.
Brasco includes a Photo Gallery that runs as a regular video program. Various shots are filmed and shown onscreen as audio from the film and from the set plays alongside them. This piece lasts for three minutes and it offers a nice way to show these pictures.
The Talent Files feature the same very basic biographies found on other CTS DVDs. We get listings for Newell, Pacino, Depp, Kirby, Heche, and Madsen; these provide a few bits of rudimentary career information but aren't worth much. We also find the theatrical trailer for Brasco plus ads for other CTS films: The Devil's Own. The Professional, and The Juror. Finally, the booklet includes the usual brief but fairly interesting production notes.
Donnie Brasco won't go down as one of the great Mafia-oriented films. That's a crowded field and it simply lacks the consistent power to qualify it for such honors. However, it's a consistently solid and interesting movie that concentrates on a side of "the life" rarely seen in such programs. The DVD provides good though unexceptional picture and sound plus some nice extras. Fans of the genre should take a look at this Special Edition release of Donnie Brasco.