Donnie Brasco is of course the movie that brought the phrase "Fahgeddabadah" to the pop culture lexicon for a brief moment in time. Based on the true story of FBI Agent Joseph Pistone, the film places Depp deep cover in the Mafia under the fictitious "Donnie Brasco" alias as he works his way in through the lower ranks of Brooklyn organized crime from the late '70s to early '80s. The wiseguy confidant he uses as an entry point, Benjamin "Lefty" Ruggiero (Pacino), is an aging mid-level worker in the Mob, perpetually passed over for greater things and jaded in his twilight years. Lefty takes Donnie under his wing and teaches him the rules of the game, including how to speak like a proper gangster, which requires learning the important semantic difference between the phrases "friend of mine" and "friend of ours", and the chain of command from Connected Guy to Made Guy to Skipper to Boss. The movie itself then becomes something of an object lesson for the wiseguy lifestyle, introducing the audience to terminology such as "vig", "fugazy", and the oft-spoken "Fahgeddabadah", a phrase that can mean basically anything in the world depending on the context in which it's used. Although interesting, the screenplay by Paul Attanasio (Homicide: Life on the Street) is at times just a bit too explanatory in nature, stopping to clarify details when it should be moving along with the story.
As far as that goes, Donnie becomes a rising star in the Mob, surpassing Lefty's tutelage, all the while gradually losing his identity as an upstanding law enforcement officer and turning into the man he pretends to be. Though his marriage suffers, Joe/Donnie stays undercover far longer than originally planned, and faces the moral dilemma between doing his job and protecting his surrogate father figure Lefty, a man who's admitted to murdering at least 26 people. He wants to uphold the law, but he also can't bear the thought of being a rat. Naturally, the conflict between his two opposing identities will eventually come to a head.
As a movie, Donnie Brasco has the unfortunate position of living in the shadow of Goodfellas, Martin Scorsese's virtuoso masterpiece about exactly this same sort of workaday gangster, and isn't nearly in the same league. It's not really meant to be, however. Donnie Brasco is less sweeping epic than small-scale character drama. Depp and Pacino both deliver excellent performances through their thick Brooklyn accents, and the picture also features strong supporting turns from the likes of Michael Madsen, Bruno Kirby, Anne Heche, and Paul Giamatti. British director Mike Newell (Enchanted April, Four Weddings and a Funeral) seems more than a bit out of his element, but works hard to get the details right and does a pretty good job of it. He revels in the period atmosphere, and I've got to admit that watching Italian Mafiosos boogie down to disco hits is kind of hilarious. The film doesn't bring much new that hadn't already been explored in the crime genre, and lacks the scope that Scorsese and others have brought to similar material, but offers a compelling story well told.
The Blu-ray Disc:
The disc automatically opens with a lengthy Blu-ray promo that can fortunately be skipped but is a nuisance.
Blu-ray discs are only playable in a compatible Blu-ray player. They will not function in a standard DVD player or in an HD DVD player. Please note that the star rating scales for video and audio are relative to other High Definition disc content, not to traditional DVD.
This is a very nice, just a bit imperfect transfer. The picture is quite sharp and has a fine sense of detail and depth. The opening black & white credits sequence has good grayscale. Colors in the rest of the movie are well replicated and flesh tones appear accurate. There's a touch of minor edge ringing on the sharpest of contrasts, but it hardly amounts to much. Some of the movie's natural film grain does appear artificially sharpened, however. This sometimes lends it an unnatural electronic texture, and there are a couple of scenes (notably the Pistone house at approximately the 34-minute mark) that look very noisy and seem to have problems with poor digital compression. Despite these issues, on the whole the disc looks pretty good.
The Donnie Brasco Blu-ray disc is not flagged with an Image Constraint Token and will play in full High Definition quality over a Blu-ray player's analog Component Video outputs.
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