Director Mike Newell has consistently thrown audiences with his choices, going from the comedy of "Four Weddings and a Funeral" to "Donnie Brasco" to the outer reaches of suburbia with the flight controller feature "Pushing Tin". Although "Weddings" is still the most popular, "Brasco" will remain the most well-thought of, as the performances and writing are both intense and powerful.
Based on the memoirs of Joe Pistone, Johnny Depp stars as Donnie Brasco, an undercover cop that infiltrates the mafia. The story opens with Johnny running into Lefty(Al Pacino), and talking his way out of a problem when he insults the older gentleman. Soon enough, the two become friends - Lefty oversees Donnie and becomes the bridge for him to get connected. We're introduced to the rest of the gang, including the boss that Lefty reports to, played well by Michael Madsen, doing the same kind of performance he does well in films like "Species".
The most remarkable performance in the film is Pacino as Lefty. He takes the material and creates a character all the way down to the subtle gestures. Depp is good as well, although this isn't my favorite performance of his. Maybe this isn't Pacino's best performance either, but it's still a pretty darn impressive one. In fact, the only performance that I really didn't care for in this film is Anne Heche, as Donnie's wife. Her performances have been so-so, but this one seems out of place and off in the film.
As the film goes on, Donnie becomes torn between his family and his loyalty to Lefty and the rest of the group. The relationship between these two and the rest of the characters in the film are well-done and interesting to watch play out. A well done score by Patrick Doyle and good cinematography add to the already strong rest of the picture. Aside from a few minor flaws, "Donnie Brasco" is a strong picture from Newell, who does suprisingly good work here away from his usual home in comedy. Maybe not the best in the genre, but certainly well above average.
This extended cut of the film adds another 20 minutes of footage to the running time, made up largely of smaller character moments. This footage didn't seem essential and didn't add a great deal, but it was interesting to see. I still prefer the tighter theatrical cut, but this extended cut's 20 minutes is certainly a lot more of a bonus than most extended cuts offer these days.
VIDEO: "Donnie Brasco" is presented again here in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Sharpness and detail are above-average throughout the majority of the film, but there are still some minor instances of softness on a few occasions. Overall, the picture seemed a bit more well-defined and crisp overall this time around.
As for faults, the presentation did show some slight edge enhancement and a couple of instances of artifacting. The print showed no specks, marks or other concerns. Overall, the presentation looked slightly smoother and a tad cleaner. Colors remained rich and well-saturated, with no smearing or other faults. Overall, while there were still some issues with this presentation, it is something of an improvement over the last release.
SOUND: The film is presented here in Dolby Digital 5.0; the majority of the movie is completely dialogue-driven, which doesn't lend itself to a very agressive audio experience with the exception of the music, which sounds fantastic here. Surrounds come into play in a very minor role, occasionally contributing to the musical score, but not doing a whole lot else. Patrick Doyle's musical score is subtle and haunting, coming through very cleanly. Dialogue, which remains the focus here, sounds clear and well-recorded.
EXTRAS: Donnie Brasco: Out From The Shadows: This is a documentary that details the long history of the making of "Donnie Brasco", and the real-life story behind the movie. Interviews with screenwriter Paul Attanasio("Disclosure"), Newell, Joe Pistone and others talk about how each of the key players became involved. Newell talks further about the research that he did to learn more about the details of mob life as well as details considered in casting the film. This is a very well-done new documentary - it doesn't full out the time with clips from the movie, but uses them appropriately to illustrate details that come up in the interviews, which are especially interesting to listen to. Running time is about 23 minutes. This is carried over from the prior release.
Original Featurette: The original promotional featurette, which is above average for a shorter featurette, offering interviews and some behind-the-scenes footage. About 7 minutes, and carried over from the prior release.
We also get promos for other titles from the studio and a photo gallery. This edition drops some features from the prior special edition, including a commentary from director Mike Newell (who was probably too busy with the new "Harry Potter" movie to record a new track) and an isolated score.
Final Thoughts: While "Donnie Brasco"'s extended cut doesn't add a great deal of additional depth to the film, fans may want to rent this edition to check out the new footage. However, in terms of which to purchase, I'd still recommend the prior release, as that offers some very nice special features that were not carried over here and does have a lower price tag.
The Film B