by Adam Riske
One of my favorite movie-watching rituals is going through my compilation DVDs and picking out movies to revisit that I haven’t seen for a very long time. On the heels of its 20th anniversary this week, I got the impulse to re-watch Mike Newell’s underdiscussed mob gem Donnie Brasco. I say underdiscussed rather than underrated because I don’t know anyone who has seen this movie and not walked away impressed by it. It just doesn’t get talked about very much because it belongs in a subgenre with arguably bigger home runs than any other. When you have all-time classics like The Godfather, The Godfather Part II and Goodfellas standing above all others, the rest sometimes have to fight for scraps. Donnie Brasco is an entirely different animal though and that’s one of the many reasons I love it.
Needless to say, I watched The Devil’s Own (which was a very troubled production, chock with script changes and a star, Pitt, who threatened to walk off the movie) and was underwhelmed. I never have thought it was a bad movie. It’s ok. It just doesn’t work for a number of reasons. First, the story of a boy-scout honorable cop (Harrison Ford) unwittingly putting up an IRA terrorist (Brad Pitt) as a houseguest is a case of a film where two pretty much unrelated stories are jammed together in a way that is not believable. Second, while Ford is good at playing a variation of a role he played multiple times in the ‘90s (i.e. the cop/government worker etc., bound by duty and moral code), Pitt doesn’t quite sell his role. He goes full-on Irish accent and it gets derisive laughs sometimes at the expense of the story. James Horner’s Irish Spring commercial score doesn’t help matters. Anytime Pitt is on-screen -- hanging out with a friend, fixing up an old boat, shooting pool, etc. --it goes into full Irish overdrive. It feels almost like the late composer wrote too much music for Titanic and gave the scraps to Pakula. Sadly, The Devil’s Own would mark the final directorial effort for both Alan J. Pakula and cinematographer Gordon Willis before their respective passings.