Why, when the acting is so good, does the violence have to be so graphic?


A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.

If Mob movies still do it for you, "Donnie Brasco" is one of the best. Johnny Depp and Al Pacino have done something quite remarkable here. With each of them haunted by the possibility of betrayal by the other, they develop an unlikely and genuine mutual loyalty.

The movie carries the force of truth. Johnny Depp plays Donnie Brasco, cover name for Joe Pistone, FBI informant. Al Pacino is Lefty Ruggiero, a spoke in the bigger wheel of a Mafia family. The spokes do the stealing and general butchery that is standard procedure in this big business of drugs, theft, and murder.

It soon becomes obvious that Lefty has limitations that will prevent his promotion. He quickly sees that Donnie's bear-trap skills can compensate for his own slower reaction time. Instructing the younger man in the rules and customs of the hierarchy, Lefty announces, "I represent you; no one can touch you now." He needs Donnie.

Donnie's cover is under constant threat: a near exposure of his wire when a Japanese restaurant manager orders him to take off his shoes, an airport meeting with an old buddy who calls out, "Hi, Joe." As we watch him save himself repeatedly with his internal razor's edge, we wonder why the Mob doesn't check out his insistence that he has no family, or follow him to his coffee shop meetings with the FBI agent who runs him. But they don't, and his deception holds.

The real Joe Pistone has said he took this job in order to prove that not all Italians have ties to the Mob. That point should have been developed in the movie to give us even a small understanding of why Joe risked his life to become Donnie. We need to know him better.

As Donnie rises in the Mafia family--to the point where he is trusted with an execution--he knows he will have to come out, leaving Lefty in the position of having vouched for a traitor. Al Pacino and Johnny Depp have drawn such rich portraits of their characters that their fictional crisis overshadows the grim reality of what actually stares us in the face. In a culture soaked in blood, lying, and scheming, we are astonished by their loyalty.

When a skull is crushed with an iron mallet or a head blown off by gunfire, we know this is the truth of this trade. Unfortunately, this violence belongs in this movie. Lefty's reassurance, "Don't mention it; it's the rules," does nothing to soften the blows.

The movie showers us with a wealth of operational detail that has a certain grisly appeal. You will smile at a sublime explanation of the nuances of inflection in the phrase "fuhgedaboudit." But after a quick smile, you may ask yourself why four intolerably violent movies are playing simultaneously on the multiplex screens. Why, when the acting is so good, does the violence have to be so graphic? How many Mob movies do we need?

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 499
Studio : Sony Pictures
Rating : R
Running Time: 2h6m

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