"Donnie Brasco" is the feature film adaptation of an autobiographical book written by former FBI agent Joseph D. Pistone (with co-writer Richard Woodley). The book and film chronicle Pistone's years of working undercover, using the name "Donnie Brasco," to infiltrate the mafia in New York City. Donnie's supervisor in the FBI is a Latter-day Saint: section chief Dean Blandford.
The movie portrays Agent Pistone and his family as active Catholics, although while he is working undercover as "Donnie Brasco," Pistone is constantly in the company of mobsters, and he does little or nothing to overtly practice his faith or live by its tenets.
As the movie begins, "Donnie Brasco" (portrayed by Johnny Depp) poses as an expert in fencing stolen jewelry so that he can attract the attention of mid-level mafia operator Ben "Lefty" Ruggiero (played by Al Pacino). "Donnie" impresses Lefty so much that the "wise guy" takes him under his wing and makes him his primary assistant. Through this connection, Pistone, a.k.a. "Donnie Brasco," is able to feed substantial information about New York City mafia operations to his contacts in the FBI.
What had originally been planned as a three-month undercover operation stretches to years, however. Although always cognizant that he is a federal agent, "Donnie" increasingly comes to empathize with his friends and associates in the mafia, particularly Pacino's character.
42 minutes after the start of the film we are introduced to a new character, a Latter-day Saint FBI section chief named Dean Blandford (played by Gerry Becker) who is Donnie's new primary boss. Blandford has come to New York from Washington, D.C. and first meets Donnie Brasco at a diner where Brasco has regularly been meeting his FBI contact.
Blandford is a significant character throughout the rest of the film. He has less screen time than Donnie Brasco (Depp) and Lefty (Pacino), of course, and he has less screen time than a few of the mafia members that Donnie works closely with. But during the second half of the movie Blandford is the principle representation of the FBI, to whom Donnie's loyalties are increasingly tested. On the director's commentary track when Blandford is introduced, director Mike Newell states that Blandford "is the Bureau. He is the bureaucrat."
Thematicaly, much of the film is about Joe Pistone/Donnie Brasco (Depp) feeling torn between the mafia with whom he spends most of his time and the FBI, his real employer. Gerry Becker (as "Blandford") has "8th billing" in the film. His name is not on the official poster, be he is the 8th credited actor in the film's opening and closing credits, after Al Pacino, Johnny Depp, Michael Madsen, Bruno Kirby, James Russo, Anne Heche, and Zeljko Ivanek. (Only the top six actors are listed on the official movie poster).
Blandford seems like a reasonable enough person, but Donnie chafes at his authority, which causes Blandford to not entirely like or trust Donnie.
Blandford, apparently based on a real-life boss that Pistone had, is a Latter-day Saint, but this fact is a relatively minor aspect of the film and Blandford's character. Blandford's religious affiliation may contribute slightly to the unease in the his working relationship with Donnie.
Blandford's character is probably fictional, devised for the movie. In skimming the book Donnie Brasco: My Undercover Life in the Mafia I found no mention of this person, nor did I see anything about a Latter-day Saint (Mormon) FBI agent. I found no references at all to Latter-day Saints (Mormons). On one of the photo plate pages in the middle of the book there is a photo depicting actions taken by Blandford in the movie. The caption that accompanies this photo reads:
On July 28, 1981, two days after Agent Pistone ended his undercover role, FBI agents (left to right) Jerry Loar, James Kinne *, and Doug Fencil emerge from Sonny Black's apartment after informing him that "Donnie Brasco" was an FBI agent.
Photo from the book upon which the movie "Donnie Brasco" is based: Donnie Brasco: My Undercover Life in the Mafia, by Joseph D. Pistone and Richard Woodley (New York and Scarborough, Ontario: New American Library, 1987). As pictured here, three FBI visited mafia bosses and inform them that their friend and co-worker "Donnie Brasco" was really working for the FBI. This same scene was depicted in the movie version, with the film's Latter-day Saint character - FBI section chief Dean Blandford - in the lead.
In the movie, Blandford pays a visit to Lefty and his fellow mafioso in a pool hall to deliver the news that "Donnie Brasco," recently removed from his assignment, is actually an FBI undercover agent. In the book, an FBI surveillance photo shows three FBI agents -- identified as Doug Fecil, James Kinne and Jerry Loar -- walking out of Sonny Black's apartment after delivering this news. The photgraph was taken on July 28, 1981. It is impossible to know if any of these gentlemen is Donnie Brasco's "real" Latter-day Saint FBI boss. All of the men in the photograph look like and are dressed like middle-aged Latter-day Saints. But it is likely that, at least during the 1980s, all FBI agents looked and dressed like Latter-day Saints.
In one scene, 56 minutes after the start of the movie, Blandford castigates Donnie for using foul language - language which is of course inappropriate in most social circles, but is almost lingua franca in the mafia world. Explaining why he wants Donnie to watch his language, Blandford explains, "I'm a Mormon." Yet moments later, after Donnie has left, Blandford derisively uses the same language in reference to Donnie. For this reason, Blandford's character was identified by one movie reviewer/columnist as "hypocritical" (Chris Hicks, "'God's Army' kick-started LDS 'genre'", Deseret News, 15 August 2003).
On the "Donnie Brasco" soundtrack CD, the underscore for this scene is track 7, and is titled "Donnie & the Mormon" (1 min., 13 sec.).
Below is a transcript of the scene, as the dialogue can actually be heard in the film, in which "Donnie" (Johnny Depp) first meets Dean Blandford (Gerry Becker), his Latter-day Saint FBI boss (42 minutes after the start of the film):
[Scene: A New York City diner. Daytime.]
Donnie Brasco/Joe Pistone (Johnny Depp): What do you say, Kurt? [Shaking hands with Kurt, the FBI agent who has been his regular contact. Note that the name of Ivanek's character "Kurt" is listed as "Tim Curley" in some sources.]
Kurt (Zeljko Ivanek): Hey, how's it going? This is Dean Blandford. He's up from Washington.
[Donnie/Joe shakes hands with Dean Blandford.]
Dean Blandford (Gerry Becker): Joe.
Donnie/Joe: Donnie. Call me Donnie. I don't want to get confused.
Blandford: I know what you mean, pal. Sometimes you get so busy-- Even I forget my own name.
Donnie/Joe: Oh yeah? Is that right? Is it hard to cash checks?
Kurt: Dean's up from Washington.
Donnie/Joe: Yeah. You said that part already. What's next?
Blandford: You know, now that the, uh, operation's beginning to bear fruit, headquarters decided to transfer me up to, uh... Sin City here.
Donnie/Joe: What for? You wanna keep an eye on me or something?
Blandford: No. To make sure you receive the proper support.
Donnie/Joe: Oh. The proper support.
Blandford: And to make sure that, in all the hubbub, there are no missed opportunities.
Donnie/Joe: "Missed opportunities"? Like what?
Blandford: Well, we have an agent down in Miami, goes by the name of Richie Gazzo.
Blandford: Now, his operation is potentially very sweet. Problem is it's starting to languish right now and it needs jump-starting. now the Bureau would like you to go down there and see if you could interest some of your mob friends. Now if you vouch for Richie Gazzo--
Donnie/Joe: I ain't gonna vouch for nobody I don't know.
Blandford: Gee, I was hoping that we'd get off on the right foot here.
Kurt: What's the big deal? You just go down and vouch for the guy. Sit in the sun for a week.
Donnie/Joe: Look, I vouch for him, I could wind up dead.
Blandford: So could he. You know, you're not the only one out there risking your life, bud.
Donnie/Joe: Oh, boy. Well, you know, uh... I'll let you know.
[Donnie/Joe puts his cap back on, stands up to walk out]
Donnie/Joe: [Addressing Kurt] I'll get back to you.
[Donnie/Joe walks away.]
Blandford: [Composed, but blinking his eyes rapidly, indicating his is slightly surprised at this. Addresses Kurt] He'll let us know?
[End of scene.]
Although Donnie/Joe seemed a bit dismissive of Blandford's request, the next few scenes show him actually implementing the plan. He manages to mention to his mafia leader the opportunities in Florida, and before long they take a trip to Florida to check things out.
While Donnie, Lefty (Al Pacino) and their immediate boss in the mafia (played by Michael Madsen) are in Florida, Donnie sneaks away and meets with the FBI in a motel. About a dozen agents have set up an operation there, from where they can track the local mob-related activities and Donnie's work. Blandford is there heading up the operation.
This is the scene in which Blandford points out that he is a Latter-day Saint. The text below is a transcription of the scene as it can be heard in the movie (56 minutes, 20 seconds after the start of the film):
Donnie/Joe: Lefty, uh, wants to ask Santo Trafficante for permission to operate down here. You've gotta give me a boat.
Blandford: We can't afford that kind of money. What kind of a boat?
Donnie/Joe: Oh, I don't know. Like a 70-footer. I just want to take him out for the day.
Blandford: You're talking six thousand dollars a day, here, Joe.
Donnie/Joe: Hey, Santo Trafficant is the boss of Florida. He sits on the f---ing Commission? Did you know that?
Blandford: Yeah, I knew that.
FBI agent heard in background: A 70-foot boat?
FBI technician (Paul Giamatti): It's up to 80, actually. We just picked up Lefty on a wiretap talking to one of Trafficante's guys.
Another FBI agent: [Holding a clipboard, addressing Donnie/Joe.] A few things we'd like to go over to make a loan-sharking indictment. [Somebody else tries to to talk to Donnie/Joe, upsetting the agent with the clipboard.] Hey, this is important!
FBI technician (Paul Giamatti): Ninety, actually.
Donnie/Joe: Hey, I did what you asked. I came down here and vouched for this f---ing guy. So what? I'm gonna take Santo Trafficante out in a rubber ducky now, or what?
Blandford: We're gonna have to wash your mouth out, bud. [Disapproving of Donnie using curse words.]
Kurt: [On the phone with somebody discussing another issue.] Does Sally Paintglass report to Nicky or Nicky Cigars?
Donnie/Joe: Nicky Glasses.
Kurt: Nicky Glasses?
FBI agent with clipboard: As I was saying here, we've got to try to fold Sonny into the RICO--
[Another agent approaches Donnie/Joe to discuss some important matter with him. The swirl of activity in the room seems to center on what Donnie is doing out in the field. These snippets of conversation also show that Donnie/Joe is important and also extremely knowledgable about what is going on with the mafia figures that the FBI is trying to gather intelligence about. Donnie finally gets frustrated at everybody coming at him with their own agendas while ignoring what he wants. He bursts out with an emphatic demand for a boat.]
Donnie/Joe: Hey, I need a boat for this f---ing sit-down!
Blandford: I'm a Mormon, mister. Now clean it up.
Other FBI technician: Joe, I think you've got a malfunction on your tape recorder. I'm not getting anything here.
[Donnie/Joe picks up the tape recorder that the FBI technician is examining. He throws it against the wall. Donnie/Joe glares at Blandford. He picks up his coffee mug and walks out of the room.]
Kurt: I'm worried. He's getting strung out.
Blandford: We can get what we want. F--- him.
[End of scene.]
[NOTE: The dialogue above is an exact transcript from the film as it actually was released. Where there are discrepancies between our transcript and the optional English subtitles shown onscreen on the DVD, it is the transcript that is correct. Mistakes in the DVD subtitles are usually a result of presenting subtitles based on the shooting script rather than transcribing the audio track.]
Donnie's Latter-day Saint boss Blandford appears in three other scenes.
In one scene (1 hour, 39 minutes after the start of the film), Blandford and Kurt visit Donnie/Joe Pistone's wife (played by Anne Heche) at her home. They explain that her that Donnie/Joe is supposed to check in with them daily, and although skipping a day or two is no cause for alarm, they have not heard from him in three weeks. They explain to her that her husband is in too deep, that a current war between rival mafia factions has become dangerous, and that they need to get him out.
Later (1 hour, 56 minutes into the film), Blandford and Kurt visit Donnie's mafia bosses (including Lefty, played by Al Pacino) and cohorts at their hangout. Blandford gives the mobsters photographs showing Donnie studying at the academy and being sworn in as an FBI agent. Blandford tells them that Donnie is really an FBI agent, and if they want to talk, they should come see him. (This takes place just after Blandford pulled Donnie/Joe out of his undercover assignment.)
In the final scene of the movie (2 hours, 1 minute into the film), Blandford accompanies Donnie/Joe Pistone (Johnny Depp) and Joe's wife (Anne Heche) to a ceremony in an FBI building in which Agent Pistone is given a medal, a certificate of accomodation, and a $500 check. Agent Pistone's three children are also in attendance.
Two notes are shown on screen at the end of the film:
The evidence collected by "Donnie Brasco" led to over 200 indictments and over 100 convictions.
Special Agent Joseph Pistone lives with his wife under an assumed name in an undisclosed location.
Below is the excerpt from the "Donnie Brasco" screenplay, from a revised draft dated July 27, 1992. This is the very first scene of the film:
EXT. DAY. WASHINGTON, D.C. An AERIAL VIEW of the nation's capital, MOVING IN on the stolid limestone box of FBI HEADQUARTERS. Supered below: FBI HEADQUARTERS. WASHINGTON, D.C. 1981. CUT TO: INT. DAY. FBI HEADQUARTERS A spacious corner OFFICE. American flag, FBI seal, and a plush carpet -- Federal blue. CLENDON HOGUE, 40s, barrel chest, shrewd eyes over half-moon glasses, PRESIDES behind a vast desk. The impressive mien of earned authority. Before him: JULES BONOVOLONTA, late 40s, Green Beret veteran, SUPERVISOR, 140 pounds of pugnacity and gristle. Ex-street agent cramped by headquarters. PAT MARSHALL, late 30s, a CASE AGENT, compulsively organized, with haunted choirboy's eyes. CLARENCE LEBOW, early 40s. Assistant SECTION CHIEF. Brooks Brothers, heavy starch. LEBOW It's going down tonight. JULES Says who? A f---ing wire. LEBOW A reliable wire. JULES A fiction writer. Hogue peruses SURVEILLANCE PHOTOS of Sonny Red and Sonny Black. Then reads the INFORMANT'S REPORT. MARSHALL Is that the 209, sir? LEBOW There's going to be a war between Sonny Red and Sonny Black -- it's all over the streets. JULES Clarence, you couldn't find the streets with an asphalt detector. MARSHALL Sonny Black goes, everyone with him goes. JULES That's doesn't mean it's tonight. LEBOW Even if it's not tonight -- and I'm not saying it's not tonight -- it could still be tonight because it could be any night. JULES F--- you, Clarence. LEBOW Hey! I'm a Mormon! HOGUE You have some objection to these guys killing each other? MARSHALL It's just that -- one of them's one of us. HOGUE An informant? JULES An agent. Undercover. HOGUE Then why are you depending on an informant? What does the agent say? (off awkward looks) When's the last time you spoke to him? JULES Three weeks. MARSHALL Three weeks and two days. HOGUE He checks in every three weeks? MARSHALL He checks in when he checks in, sir. JULES We had to make up the rules as we went along -- HOGUE My predecessor started this? JULES His predecessor. LEBOW It's been five years.
* James Kinne: FBI special agent James Kinne was one of the agents who is shown in the book Donnie Brasco: My Undercover Life in the Mafia. Either James Kinne or one of the two other agents shown with him in a photograph in the book was likely a model for a major character in the "Donnie Brasco" movie: Latter-day Saint section chief Dean Blandford. Blandford was the FBI supervisor of Johnny Depp's character Joseph Pistone, who worked undercover using the alias "Donnie Brasco." The FBI agent named James Kinne has no connection that we know of to an Independence, Missouri man named James Kinne who was murdered by his wife, Sharon Kinne, on 19 March 1960. This became a well-publicized case. James Kinne was a devout Latter-day Saint. Sharon Kinne was not a Latter-day Saint. Sharon Kinne's murder of James Kinne and her subsequent escape from prison were chronicled in the book The Sharon Kinne Story: I'm Just an Ordinary Girl, by James C. Hays (Leathers Publishing, 1997). The story was portrayed on an episode of "Unsolved Mysteries" in 1999. There was talk that the story might be made into a feature-length movie.
An alternative spelling of "Dean Blandford" may be "Dean Blanford."