Paul Attanasio, who created NBC’s Homicide, based his screenplay about the experiences of former FBI agent Joseph Pistone with New York mobsters in the late 70s on the book Pistone wrote with Richard Woodley. The mobsters in this movie do things as grisly as what the mobsters do in Martin Scorsese movies, but without the histrionics–their behavior is unsettling because it’s subtly seductive, as the story argues it was to Pistone, who felt increasingly betrayed by the FBI. Director Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral) does fine with the relationship between leads Johnny Depp and Al Pacino: As Pistone, aka Donnie Brasco, Depp ingratiates himself with Pacino, who’s a low-echelon mobster with ties to the guys the FBI is really after, and the chemistry between them is complex–their bond has so many layers. Depp conveys his character’s ambivalence and ambiguity with utter conviction, and though the annoying score tries to throw Pacino’s monologues over the top, his persuasive low-key performance puts the violins in their place. Newell doesn’t do as well with the overwritten scenes between Depp and Anne Heche as his wife, who becomes increasingly exasperated that he’s neglecting his family. But the intricate emotions of the rest of the movie resonate even through these clunky scenes and keep the movie back from the brink of melodrama, though it comes dangerously–and excitingly–close. Biograph, Burnham Plaza, Esquire, Ford City, Lake, Lincoln Village, Norridge, Old Orchard.

–Lisa Alspector

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): film still.