Movie List

8 Movies You Must Watch if You Love Donnie Brasco

July 29, 2019
11 min read

A film based on true events, ‘Donnie Brasco’ tells the tale of the FBI undercover agent Joseph D. Pistone, played by Johnny Depp, who infiltrated the Bonnano crime family of New York City for a stretch of six years. Set in the ’70s, the plot follow Pistone who befriends old-school Cosa Nostra hitman named Benjamin “Lefty” Ruggiero, played by Al Pacino.  Soon, Lefty starts mentoring Pistone. Slowly Pistone slips into his double life of an agent and a criminal.

The film, which is directed by Mike Newell, also stars Michael Madsen, Bruno Kirby, James Russo, and Anne Heche. The script of the film is Paul Attanasio based on a book by Joseph D. Pistone and Richard Woodley. In the following list, we have tried to compile a list of films that are in the similar vein of ‘Donnie Brasco’ and most of them are based on real-life characters on the side of crime and law. So, without further ado, here is the list of best movies similar to ‘Donnie Brasco’ that are our recommendations. You can watch several of these movies like ‘Donnie Brasco’ on Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime.

8. Kill the Irishman (2011)

‘Kill the Irishman’, directed by Jonathan Hensleigh, written by Hensleigh and Jeremy Walters, tells the true story of the Irish American mobster Danny Greene. It was adapted from the book, ‘To Kill the Irishman: The War That Crippled the Mafia’ by Rick Porello. Coming from an impoverished background, Greene used to work as a longshoreman on the docks of Cleveland. Charismatic in nature, he rose to become the president of the International Longshoremen’s Association in 1961.

Around 1964, Greene was charged with monetary corruption but he successfully managed to thwart being put in jail by becoming a snitch for the FBI. Greene then joined forces with another gangster from Cleveland called John Nardi and established himself as a fearless trouble maker in the world of organized crime during the ’70s. He waged a war against the Italian Mafia at the time for dominance in the city. He also came to be known as a Robin Hood figure in some circles and was thought to be invincible as he escaped many assassination attempts on his life. He was ultimately killed by a hitman named, Ray Ferritto in 1977. Ray Stevenson stars as Danny Greene, while Vincent D’Onofrio plays John Nardi. Some of the other actors who play significant roles in the film are, Christopher Walken and Val Kilmer.

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7. Heat (1995)

The credibility of a film is perhaps almost instantly established when it is mentioned that it stars as two of its main protagonists the stalwarts Al Pacino and Robert De Niro. ‘Heat,’ directed by Michael Mann, is one such film which as both of them playing two personas each on either side of the law. Neil McCauley, played by Robert De Niro is a heist expert and has his team who performs some of the most daring bank robberies in Los Angeles. LAPD officer Lt. Vincent Hanna,  played by Al Pacino, on the other hand embarks on a mission to track down the notoriously elusive Neil.

In one of the bank robberies, McCauley’s men make a mess by killing someone, which lands Lt. Hanna on his tail. Hanna is hell-bent on catching McCauley while McCauley is determined to slip away. This chase between the two men, dangerously good in their professions, is the main plot of the film. However, the film is based on the real-life former Chicago police officer named, Chuck Adamson, who tried to hunt down a criminal by the name of McCauley in the ’60s. The film also stars Val Kilmer as a supporting character. One can never forget the dialogue by McCauley who remembers the words spoken by his mentor in crime and says, “Never have anything in your life that you can’t walk out on in thirty seconds flat if you spot the heat coming around the corner.”

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6. Public Enemies (2009)

It’s the ’30s and the time of the Great Depression in the United States of America. Among the wave of criminals disturbing the ordinary flow of life is a John Dillinger, played by Johnny Depp. Dillinger does not hunt the ordinary people though. He goes for the elite of the business world and banks. Which is why he is a haloed figure, almost a celebrity in the eyes of the laymen. But his exploits are a matter of great concern for FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover as he cannot allow a criminal to roam around the streets in total defiance of the law.

Hoover orders his best agent, Melvin Purvis, played by Christian Bale, to bring in Dillinger either dead or alive, as he declares Dillinger to be his public enemy number one. This sets off Purvis after Dillinger and his associates Homer Van Meter and Baby Face Nelson. Slowly but eventually Dillinger’s world starts crumbling around him as he sees that times are changing and the ushering in of organized crime has no place for crooks like him in it.

Apart from Bale and Depp, the film also stars Marion Cotillard as Billie Frechette, Dillinger’s love interest. Stephen Dorf and Stephen Graham play Homer Van Meter and Baby Face Nelson respectively. J. Edgar Hoover is played by Billy Crudup. Though historically not accurate, the character John Dillinger did exist, and the film was based on the non-fiction book by Bryan Burrough titled ‘Public Enemies: America’s Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34.’ ‘Public Enemies’ is directed by Michael Mann and co-written by Mann, Ronan Bennett and Ann Biderman.

5. Black Mass (2015)

James “Whitey” Bulger is an Irish mob boss from 1975 and leader of the Winter Hill Gang which  controls the South Boston underworld. He lives with his wife Lindsey and invalid son Douglas. His brother, William “Billy” Bulger is the Massachusetts Senate President. The only other criminal organization in Bulger’s way is led by the Italian Anguilo Brothers and they challenge Bulger’s authority every now and then. This is when FBI agent John Connolly, who had been childhood friends with Bulger and William come to South Boston to seek help from Bulger, so that the FBI can nab the Angiulo Brothers.

A ploy set into motion by both William and John. Though he hates being an informant, Bulger agrees to the plan. Too shrewd for the Senator and the FBI, Bulger uses John’s protection to enhance his trade and cover his criminal tracks. Though the FBI can capture the Angiulo Brothers they severely underestimate Bulger’s power as the gangster spirals out of control.

Black Mass,’ directed by Scott Cooper and written by Mark Mallouk tells the true story of one of America’s most dangerous criminals, James “Whitey” Bulger. It is adapted from the book by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill titled ‘Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance Between the FBI and the Irish Mob.’ Johnny Depp stars as James “Whitey” Bulger. Benedict Cumberbatch portrays William “Billy” Bulger. The character of John Connolly is played by Joel Edgerton.

4. Goodfellas (1990)

‘Goodfellas’ is undoubtedly one of Martin Scorsese’s best works. Based on the book titled ‘Wiseguy’ by Nicholas Pileggi, the plot follows the life of Henry Hill and two of his associates from 1955 to 1980. Henry is a high school student who, while growing up in a rough neighborhood full of tough guys, is seduced by the criminal life that abounds him. He soon begins a career working for Paul “Paulie” Cicero. Henry, along with James “Jimmy the Gent” Conway and “Tommy” DeVito forms a gang. and start working together.

From a mere money receiver for the gang, Henry works his way up and soon becomes an established man in the crime syndicate. They spend their time enjoying the glamour that the high-profit criminal world affords. But one day while partying at Henry’s nightclub, Tommy and Jimmy get into a quarrel with one of the members of the Gambino family, another local gangster syndicate of repute. The quarrel culminates into Tommy and Jimmy killing the man they got into a fight with. Fearing that killing an important man from another powerful family in the criminal underworld could have dangerous consequences for them, the trio plan to cover up the body.

That begins the problem in their well to do criminal lives. The film is based on the real-life of Henry Hill who later became an informant for the FBI and was crucial in helping the agency in capturing other mob bosses. The crime film is one of a kind and has a stellar cast, where Ray Liotta plays Henry Hill, Robert De Niro plays James “Jimmy the Gent” Conway and Joe Pesci plays Tommy DeVito. ‘Goodfellas’ became a trendsetter for the crime films that followed it.

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3. Carlito’s Way (1993)

‘Carlito’s Way,’ directed by Brian De Palma, narrates the story of Carlito Brigante who gets out of jail after serving a term of five years. The sentence which was for thirty years gets cut short after the intervention of his friend, the lawyer Dave Kleinfeld.  Carlito comes out vowing to live the life of a clean and a law-abiding citizen. He even reconnects with his old lover Gail, and they give their relationship another go. But soon enough, the life that Carlito left behind catches with his present. His friend Kleinfeld, comes asking a favor in return for the one he did for him. Carlito plans to do this one last job to collect the money and leave New York to start a new chapter of his life. But his past comes in the way.

‘Carlito’s Way’ has achieved cult status among crime films. The film is based on the two novels by Judge Edwin Torres titled ‘Carlito’s Way’ and After Hours.’ The script is written by David Koepp. Al Pacino stars as Carlito Brigante, Sean Penn plays David Kleinfeld. Penelope Ann Miller, Luis Guzman, John Leguizamo, Jorge Porcel, Joseph Siravo and Viggo Mortensen play supporting characters.

2. American Gangster (2007)

‘American Gangster,’ directed by Ridley Scott and written by Steven Zaillian, is the fictionalized narrative of the real-life Harlem drug kingpin Frank Lucas. Denzel Washington, who portrays Frank Lucas, witnesses the death of his mentor, Bumpy Johnson and acts towards taking control of the drug business of Harlem. He devises an ingenious method of selling the best quality heroin for cheaper rates throughout the U.S. Cutting out the middlemen involved in the trade, Lucas flies in heroin directly from Bankok in the US military airplanes that fly in from Vietnam. He blooms his business and becomes the authority for heroin dealing in the area.

Add to this he has the protection of the mafia families of New York. On the other hand, Ritchie Roberts, played by Russell Crowe, is an incorruptible and honest cop from Essex County. Roberts is called in to spearhead a mission by the Federal Investigation Force of Narcotics, that sets him after the extremely clever, level headed and ruthless Frank Lucas.

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1. The Departed (2006)

‘The Departed’ is a remake of the Hong Kong blockbuster ‘Infernal Affairs.’ Directed by Martin Scorsese, the film centers on the police force in South Boston. In an attempt to bring down the thriving Irish-American organized crime syndicate, the cops implants a mole into the criminal syndicate run by the suave and stylish Frank Costello, played with inimitable flair by Jack Nicholson. Billy Costigan, played by Leonardo Di Caprio, infiltrates the syndicate to gather information. He slowly starts getting close to Costello who trusts him.

On the other hand, the syndicate plants a rat in the police force in the form of Colin Sullivan, played by Matt Damon. Being very good at his job, Sullivan rises to a high post in the Special Investigation Unit. Both the police and the syndicate are aware of the presence of a mole in their respective systems, though they just cannot point a finger. It is now up to Billy and Sullivan to detect each other’s identities, but both are too involved in their double lives. Anyhow, they both must do their job to come out alive of the systems that they have been planted in to destroy.

Not to mention Scorsese’s exceptional craft, Frank Costello’s words stay back for a long time after having watched the film when the master of crime says with an evil glee on his face, “When I was your age, they would say we could become cops or criminals. Today what I’m saying to you is this: When you’re facing a loaded gun, what’s the difference?”

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