The Rum diary is an upcoming film based on the novel by Hunter S. Thompson, which stars Johnny Depp as journalist John Kemp. Along with his slightly disappointing role in the 2010 film The Tourist, this film is quite a departure from the roles we have come to associate with Depp. In fact when you here the name ‘Johnny Depp’ a few things may instantly come to mind. His quirky collaborations with the odd-ball director Tim Burton, their first being Edward Scissorhands, Willy Wonker, The Mad Hatter and one of his most popular to date, the absurd and flamboyant pirate Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. With the list of strange and odd characters increasing, it is easy for audiences to forget that Depp is capable of subtle and refined performances as well.
The 1997 film Donnie Brasco is a good example of a more realistic performance from Depp, where he plays an undercover FBI agent named Joseph Pistone who tries for a number of years to infiltrate a crime organisation in New York. Al Pacino also stars as Lefty, a low-level member of the organisation, who takes Donnie Brasco (Pistone’s alias) under his wing. Lefty believes Brasco is a jewel thief and vouches for him to his superiors, which subsequently leads to Brasco’s ability to infiltrate the organisation further.
The relationship between Donnie Brasco and Lefty evolves into a father-son type relationship…
This tense thriller is based on the true life of an FBI agent, who shares the same name, and spent 6 years undercover. Throughout the film Pistone becomes increasingly paranoid and afraid for his life at the thought of being exposed. His daily struggle to try to keep his true identity a secret, whilst still trying to remain a convincing member of the crime family puts a strain on Pistone’s relationship with his wife Maggie (played by Anne Heche) who starts to notice changes in Pistone’s character. Pistone also realises that the façade he is putting on is no longer something he can easily detatch himself from and he becomes more and more like the people who he is trying to bring to justice.
The relationship between Donnie Brasco and Lefty began as a means for Pistone to become part of the crime ‘family’, but evolves into a father-son type relationship, which Pistone realises that once he goes through with his job, it will end immediately and may lead to the demise of Lefty.
…[Depp] is more than just a caricature actor.
As far as ‘Mafia’ films go, I would definitely categorise this as one of the best, along with Goodfellas, Casino and The Godfather. Director Mike Newell is able to draw audiences into the life of an undercover agent, and convey how intense and highly dangerous it would be to live amongst criminals. Depp’s ability to portray Pistone’s bravery and stoic demeanour in many of the violent situations he found himself show that he is more than just a caricature actor. He is able to take realistic roles and convey them as convincingly and intensely as any actor working today.
Images courtesy of Donnie Brasco