Mike Newell / TriStar Pictures
Based on the true story of FBI undercover agent Joseph D. Pistone, Donnie Brasco marked one of the first main title sequences under Kyle Cooper’s Imaginary Forces banner. Over the course of 6 years during the 1970’s, Pistone feigned to be a “jewel thief” and successfully infiltrated 2 of the 5 New York Mafia families, the Bonanno’s and Colombo’s.
Directed by Kyle Cooper, the main title sequence for Donnie Brasco, apprised through the eyes of Pistone (Johnny Depp), recaps the investigational period before Pistone’s sting gets underway.
Cooper’s resourcefulness, evidenced in his realization, used the films unit publicity photos as surveillance photos, which manifested them as a ready made conceptual solution. Mike Newell told Cooper that he appreciated that in the credits Cooper directed for Tony Scott’s The Fan and David Fincher’s film Seven. Cooper demonstrated the ability to tap into the main characters obsession and Mike Newell wanted to communicate Johnny Depp’s obsession, so the sequence features Depp’s eyes watching and waiting for months and years for his chance to infiltrate the crime family. Cooper also set up second unit still shoots in the bars, lounges and gin mills where Pistone’s character would wait and watch, all the while looking for his opportunity to make his move. Interestingly also about Cooper’s thought process was the fact that musically and story wise, the sequence has a begining, middle and end. In the beginning, Depp’s character watches the criminal families in New York. Then, he participates in a field trip, or working vacation of sorts the gangsters take to Florida at a high point of Pistones infiltration and acceptance into the crew, which acts as the middle. The end focuses more on the problems that ensue with the crew, secret alliances and betrayals, and the pathos and empathy we feel for Lefty, who made the choice to trust Pistone and take him under his wing. Lefty pays dearly for putting his faith in Pistone. It has been said that the credit sequence makes you feel for Lefty and empathize with his character flaw, and that there is an overall sense of sadness to the Donnie Branco titles. As was the case with Seven, Cooper was trying to break away from the sometimes formulaic credits sequences he created while at R/Greenberg Associates and the ones that had inspired him at R/Greenberg early in his career. According to Cooper, they seemed to always begin with an abstraction and then as the sequence progressed, the audience would realize that the abstraction was the main title forming: the shadows in the Untouchables, or the deconstructed letters forms in Altered States and Alien. Cooper wanted to explore title sequences that where more editorially complex and move away from sequences like he did for Abel Ferrara’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers remake, which follows a similar format, or Adrian Lyne’s Indecent Proposal, which also features the film’s name building itself on and finally coming into focus as the sequence progresses.