Donnie Brasco (film)

Donnie Brasco is an Academy Award–nominated 1997 film by Mike Newell, starring Al Pacino, Michael Madsen and Johnny Depp. It is loosely based on the real-life events of Joseph D. Pistone, an FBI agent who successfully infiltrated the Bonanno crime family, one of the Mafia's Five Families based in New York City during the 1970s, under the alias "Donnie Brasco". Depp met with Pistone several times while preparing for his role.


In the late 1970s, FBI agent Joe Pistone (Depp) is assigned to infiltrate the New York City–based Bonanno crime family. Calling himself, "Donnie Brasco" and posing as a diamond expert from Vero Beach, Florida, he befriends Lefty Ruggiero (Pacino), a low-level mob hit man whose personal life is in tatters, and Dominick "Sonny Black" Napolitano (Madsen). Lefty can't seem to make any money, his son is a drug-addict and he is continually passed over for promotion to a higher position within the crime family. He continually reminds Brasco of his growing disillusionment about having spent 30 years in the Mafia (and killing 26 people), with little to show for it. In Donnie, however, Lefty sees a young protégé who might be able to succeed where he had failed. He takes Donnie under his wing, and under Lefty's tutelage Donnie quickly becomes accepted by the other Family members, although he is never elevated above the rank of "associate" member (the lowest mafia rank). But the longer Pistone plays the role of a gangster, the more he finds himself actually becoming Donnie Brasco during his rare off duty hours. His change in personality drives a wedge between him and his wife (played by Anne Heche) and three children. Over time, Pistone comes to realize that the slightest mistake in his performance as a mobster could result in the death of him and his family. In addition, Joe Pistone has come to regard Lefty as a close and trusted friend. He knows that when the day finally comes that the FBI arrests his mob associates, he will be ending Lefty's life as surely as if he himself had killed him.


Actor Role
Johnny Depp Joseph Pistone/Donnie Brasco
Al Pacino Benjamin Ruggiero
Michael Madsen Sonny Black
Bruno Kirby Nicholas Santora
Anne Heche Maggie Pistone
James Russo John Cersani
Zeljko Ivanek Tim Curley
Gerry Becker Dean Blandford
Andrew Parks Hollman
Robert Miano Sonny Red
Brian Tarantina Anthony Indelicato
Rocco Sisto Richard 'Richie' Gazzo

Box office

US Gross Domestic Box Office Numbers: US$ 41,909,762
+ International Gross Box Office Numbers: $83,000,000
= Worldwide Gross Box Office Numbers: $124,909,763

Academy Award Nominations

The film was nominated for an Academy Award in the category of Best Adapted Screenplay

Historical inaccuracies

  • The loanshark collection scene at the strip club really did happen, except that Joe Pistone was with the notorious Anthony Mirra who worked for the Bonanno family. Tony almost did this after Joe got into an argument with a drunken patron at a nightclub.
  • Joe Pistone was never involved in the murders of Alphonse Indelicato and his two capos, Phillip Giaccone and Dominick Trinchera. Pistone only found out afterwards.
  • Nicholas Santora, portrayed as "Nicky" by Bruno Kirby, was never murdered by Benjamin Ruggiero, as he is still alive as of 2007.
  • Bonnano soldier John "Boobie" Cerasani (whose character was called Paulie in the movie) played by James Russo, filed a libel suit against Sony Corporations, TriStar Pictures, the film director Mike Newell and other corporations that were involved in producing the film. Cersani had dealings with Donnie Brasco from back in 1972 and was actually brought up on racketeering charges in 1982 that were brought on by the Donnie Brasco investigation.
  • It is implied that the character Lefty was killed by fellow Family members for allowing Pistone to infiltrate the Family; in reality, Ruggiero died of lung cancer, in prison, on Thanksgiving in 1993, after being picked up by the FBI. And in real life, Dominick "Sonny Black" Napolitano, Lefty's boss, was the one murdered for having allowed Pistone's infiltration, allegedly on the orders of then-current imprisoned boss Philip Rastelli, whose nickname "Rusty" is only mentioned once by Michael Madsen in the film, after his character "Sonny Black" is promoted to capo (caporegime), or captain of Brooklyn.
  • Over the closing credits the film states that at the time of its release "there is still a $500,000 open contract on [Pistone's] head". Following separate sitdowns FBI officials had with the Bonanno crime family and Paul Castellano, the head of the The Commission and boss of the Gambino crime family at that time, ordered all Mafia bounties on Pistone to be rescinded. Subsequent wiretaps and intelligence reports confirm that this was indeed ordered throughout the Mafia.
  • In one scene, the ELO song "Don't Bring Me Down" is played at a disco. This scene takes place some months before the song was released on record in June 1979.

External links

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