Evan Popplestone’s review published on Letterboxd:
This gangster drama is based on the autobiographical book Donnie Brasco: My Undercover Life in the Mafia by former FBI agent Joseph D. Pistone.
The whole "undercover cop seduced by the criminal world" trope was nothing new even back in 1997. As a gangster pic, Mike Newell's direction isn't as audaciously impressive as Scorsese or De Palma's entries. There isn't as much in the way of the requisite violence either, although there are still some effectively tense and inordinately brutal moments.
However, it's clearly the performances and writing that do the heavy lifting here. That's fine, since the film is wholly focussed on characters and their relationships, especially the one between Joe Pistone/Donnie Brasco (Johnny Depp) and mobster "Lefty" Ruggiero (Al Pacino). The depth of their friendship as they navigate the elaborate and frustrating world of mob politics provides the lynchpin around which the story revolves. The pair of them are great and really click believably together.
When cinephiles talk about classic gangster flicks, Donnie Brasco may not quite rank amongst the best but, despite doing moderately well with contemporary critics and audiences, it has become somewhat unfairly overlooked over the years.
Definitely worth checking out.