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Mike Newell
Al Pacino, Johnny Depp, Michael Madsen, Bruno Kirby, James Russo, Anne Heche, Zeljko Ivanek, Gerry Becker, Robert Miano, Brian Tarantina
Writing Credits:
Joseph D. Pistone & Richard Woodley (book, "Donnie Brasco: My Undercover Life in the Mafia"), Paul Attanasio

In 1978, the US government waged a war against organized crime. One man was left behind the lines.

Posing as jewel broker Donnie Brasco, FBI agent Joe Pistone is granted entrance into the violent mob family of aging hitman Lefty Ruggiero. When his personal and professional life collide, Pistone jeopardizes his marriage, his job, his life and ultimately the gangster mentor he has come to respect and admire. Based on a true story.

Box Office:
$35 million.
Opening Weekend
$11.660 million on 1503 screens.
Domestic Gross
$41.954 million.

Rated R

Widescreen 2.35:1/16X9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 147 min.
Price: $19.94
Release Date: 5/8/2007

• “Out from the Shadows” Featurette
• Original Vintage Featurette
• Photo Gallery
• Trailers


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Donnie Brasco: Extended Cut (1997)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 12, 2007)

From The Godfather through The Sopranos, the public remains fascinated by tales of the Mafia. Since so many of these share the same essential elements, it seems a little surprising at times that the genre retains such sparkle, but then again, they've made tons of James Bond films and that series still gets folks in theater seats.

A factually based entry from 1997, Donnie Brasco seemed similar on the surface but it offered a somewhat different look at "the life". The story follows Joe Pistone (Johnny Depp), an FBI agent who poses as jewel broker Donnie Brasco in an attempt to gain intimacy with local Mafia. After he gains the trust of fairly unsuccessful low-level gangster Lefty Ruggiero (Al Pacino), Pistone accomplishes his goals, but almost inevitably, he gets too close to the action and a variety of conflicts arise in regard to his position.

A lot of the story seems fairly predictable and not exceptionally exciting. The plot occasionally focuses on Pistone's neglected family - he spent years undercover and had little contact with them in that time - but as is almost always the case with this kind of "man's movie", we don't see much of wife Maggie (Anne Heche) and their kids. They become a minor subplot that doesn't receive a lot of attention.

Instead, the film concentrates on Donnie's relationship with his new compatriots, and it's through those elements that DB gains its power. Although the story itself doesn't do much to flesh out these connections, the actors make the developments compelling. Thankfully, Pacino almost totally buries his usually outsize bluster as Lefty. This guy's a not-too-bright loser who can't ever get ahead, and Pacino plays him with sweetly sad resignation and simmering fury. I wasn't sure someone of Pacino's stature could lower himself to the level of such a pathetic character - all those years of stardom and power must have had an effect - but Al does quite well in the part. He makes Lefty a very believable and real person.

Depp works just as well as the conflicted agent. He ably portrays the dilemmas faced by the character, and he also slowly develops the way Pistone disappears and becomes Brasco. Depp doesn't offer a quick and rough imitation of a wiseguy. He gradually transforms to the point where little of Pistone exists, even when he's out of that situation and home with his family. Depp is quite versatile and solid.

The two stars are backed with a more-than-competent supporting cast, led by always-scary Michael Madsen and comic yet still realistic Bruno Kirby. This group doesn't quite match up with the stellar cast of GoodFellas, but they do well nonetheless.

Truth be told, Brasco occasionally feels like GoodFellas-lite. The stories move along somewhat similar lines, and a lot of the situations looked much the same. The main difference - and one of the more interesting aspects of Brasco - stems from the fact it concentrates on a pretty unsuccessful side of the mob. These guys aren't living the high life, unlike the Mafia characters we usually see. Instead, they slink along from one low-level caper to the next while they continue to dream of the big score that seems to evade them. It's an unusual perspective that adds power to the film.

As does the true-to-life basis of the movie. Although Brasco takes liberties with the facts, it's still a strong subtext to know that the story really happened. It's hard not to marvel at the devotion of Pistone and all the work he puts in to his undercover job, and the knowledge that a real guy actually did what we see makes it seem even more amazing.

Ultimately, I can't say that I loved Donnie Brasco, but I thought it provided an interesting and unusual look at a much-filmed subject: the Mafia. The film succeeds mainly due to some very strong acting and a compelling story. Brasco is a worthy addition to the genre.

Note that this version of Donnie Brasco offers an extended cut of the film. It adds 20 minutes of footage to elongate the flick to nearly two and a half hours. Five of these already appeared as the 2000 “Special Edition” DVD’s deleted scenes:

-Lefty and the guys deal with his new lion;

-In Florida, Lefty busts Sonny Black’s balls, and then Sonny tries to lure Donnie into his web;

-The gang runs into Sonny Red after they come back from Florida;

-The IRS audits Pistone’s family;

-Donnie smashes up a room due to stress.

In addition, the Extended Edition gives us these clips:

-More of the opening car argument between Lefty and dshjdhsad, and Sonny Red fools around with a waitress;

-More of Lefty and Donnie in the car to get Lefty’s money for his fake diamond ring;

-Donnie at home for Christmas;

-The guys discuss Nixon and the state of the world;

-More of Lefty and Donnie in the car after he proposes the Florida deal to Sonny Black;

-More of Lefty and Donnie as they scope the Florida bar;

-Lefty and Donnie threaten each other in a cold motel room;

-A little more when Donnie gets other agents to find him a boat;

-More of Lefty and Donnie in the hospital after Lefty’s kid ODs.

I think that sums up all of the extra material. I may have missed something, but I tried to compare the two versions as closely as possible, and I didn’t notice any other changes.

The big question: does this extra 20 minutes of footage make Brasco a better film? The big answer: no, not in my opinion. May of the elements seem interesting, but I can’t say that any of them offer anything particularly consequential. Usually they’re too short to do much, and some come across as redundant. We can already sense the tensions as Donnie rises in stature while Lefty stays the same; we don’t need these spelled out to such a degree.

Nonetheless, I can’t say that the additions actually hurt the movie. They get a little repetitive, but they’re not harmful in that regard. Both cuts of the film work well. I’d probably stay with the theatrical cut, as it’s tighter and brisker, but this extended edition gives us an interesting alternate view of the flick.

The DVD Grades: Picture B/ Audio B/ Bonus C

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. Otherwise I witnessed no issues with source defects.

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 5.1 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".

How did the picture and sound of this 2007 “Extended Cut” compare to those of the 2000 special edition? For the most part, both seemed very similar. The 2007 transfer was cleaner since it lacked the mild levels of marks and grit, but otherwise the pair looked a lot alike. The audio appeared to be virtually identical, with the same strengths and weaknesses.

Virtually all of the extras on this “Extended Cut” already appeared on the earlier “Special Edition”. Called Donnie Brasco: Out From the Shadows, a 23-minute and 50-second documentary combines interviews circa 2000 with director Mike Newell, writer Paul Attanasio, producer Louis DiGiaimo, and the real-life Joe Pistone with 1997 snippets from actor Johnny 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 a lot factual information we want to hear. All in all, it's a solid little documentary.

We also find the film's Original Featurette. This program runs for seven minutes and 23 seconds and follows the usual format for this sort of piece. We get interview snippets with Newell, Depp, Pistone, and actors Anne Heche, Bruno Kirby, and Michael Madsen. 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 other 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, six seconds and it offers a nice way to show these pictures.

A few ads appear under Previews. We find promos for Casino Royale, Ghost Rider and Rocky Balboa.

This set loses some extras that appeared on the 2000 Special Edition. It drops Newell’s commentary, an isolated score, “Talent Files”, the movie’s trailer, and a booklet with some production notes. Though both include “Previews”, the two discs provide different ads.

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 picture and audio along with a smattering of decent extras.

I like Brasco and recommend it. Should fans snag this “Extended Cut” – with its added 20 minutes – or stay with the SE for the theatrical version? I can endorse both, but if forced to pick one, I’d go with the old SE. I prefer the shorter version of the movie, and it includes superior extras. The Extended Cut offers better visuals, but we don’t find significant transfer improvements, so the old disc remains almost as good in that regard. Both releases are positive, but unless you’re a serious Brasco fan who really wants to see the extra footage, the 2000 SE is the way to go.

To rate this film visit the Special Edition review of DONNIE BRASCO

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