Believe Care Invest: Donnie Brasco

Why it might be hard to identify with Donny:
  • As we discussed in our most recent podcast, he plays his cards close to his chest. We’re not even sure he’s a good guy.
  • …but that makes him more believable (We’re finding this, aren’t we? The things that make a character believable are often potentially off-putting if not balanced out with Care and Invest.) 
  • Also as James and I discussed, we admire both his expertise with jewels, and his cool way of conveying that Lefty’s gem is fake: He examines it and then says, “Why don’t you give it to your wife…You should give it to someone who don’t know any better.”
  • When Donnie finally calls his wife, and she’s gotta go back to sleep, he says, “Put the phone on your pillow, I wanna listen to you breathe”, which is a painful way of saying “I miss you” that we’ve never heard before.
  • The details of the mafia world are fascinating and convincing (The difference between “friend of mine” and “friend of ours”.)
  • Because Donny, in the guise of an apprentice, is subtly dominating Lefty almost from the beginning, we don’t actually fear for him very much. We worry about him more when we see the damage this does to his marriage and family.
  • We always love humiliating ironies, and it’s ironic when both the mafia and the FBI tell him at the same time that his mustache violates their regulations, but his wife tells him, “That was the only thing I liked about this job.”
  • We always like watchful eyes, and the movie begins with a close-up of Donnie’s watchful eyes. He quickly proves himself to be a bad-ass, beating up the guy who gave Lefty the jewel. We admire how he manipulates Lefty. He tells the FBI: “I got him, I got my hooks in the guy.”
Five Es
  • Eat: Misses Christmas with his own family to eats Coq Au Vin with Lefty’s family.
  • Exercise: All he does when he’s in his apartment is lift weights.
  • Economic Activity: He’s pretending to be a jeweler while actually working for the FBI: He tells his wife, “You get the checks, don’t you?”
  • Enjoy: Not at all, except listening to his wife breathe. He pretends to enjoy dinner with Lefty, but we’re never sure to what degree he’s just acting with Lefty.
  • Emulate: Emulating Lefty every way he can.
Rise above
  • Not until the very end of the movie, when he half-heartedly tries to get Lefty to flee before he can get arrested, but even then he’s unwilling to break character, so he fails.
High five a black guy
  • Nope.

Donnie Brasco: The Archive

Out of all the movies I’ve done, this is probably the most forgotten. It was from the early days of the checklists when the idea was more to pick random movies. I’ve thought about dropping it from the list and replacing it with Goodfellas or something. That said, I do adore this movie.  At Columbia, I rescued the screenplay from the garbage when they were cleaning out their archives, then I started reading it over and over.  Indeed the script has one of the highest scores of any movie I've done (Behind only Star Wars, I think) Theres just one area that it flunks: The Hook, and thats why its not as well remembered as it should be. Never forget the need for unique imagery!


New Checklist and Rulebook Casefile: Use of a (Literal) Framing Device in Donnie Brasco

I’ve updated the Checklist road test for Donnie Brasco and you can check it out here. Now let’s look at one of the new answers in more depth:

When we think of framing devices, we tend to think of retrospective voiceover, flashforwards, or a beginning scene that turns most of the movie into a flashback, but this movie has a more subtle approach.

As Donnie first gets in with Lefty, we intermittently get a literal framing device: we hear an ominous-sounding camera clicking and the action is rendered in a series of still frames, shot from far away at a high angle, until we go back to normal. We never have a clear sense who’s taking these picture or from where…we’re not even sure if Donnie himself knows about it.

The effect is sinister, for both Lefty and Donnie. These are both manhunters with licenses to kill, and they’re both potentially in each other’s gun-sights, but this creepy surveillance reveals them for what they really are: victims of forces beyond their control, ground up by the twin bureaucracies of the mob and the feds.

Like any framing device, this establishes the mood, the nature of the jeopardy, and the dramatic question. In most undercover movies, the question is “Will the hero survive long enough to get the evidence he needs?” Here, it’s more a question of “Can either Donny or Lefty get out of the boxes that their bosses have put them in, or are they both trapped?” The occasional intrusion of these ominous, fatalistic photos set up that dynamic nicely.

This device acts as the cold eye of fate, foreshadowing the ultimate powerlessness of both men. Tellingly, this is the only movie movies I’ve looked at in which the hero is not there for the climax: We finally see the photos manifest themselves in the story when Donnie’s fed bosses walk in to the mob club, toss them on the pool table, explain who Donnie was, and walk out. Donnie will never have the chance to intervene and save Lefty’s life: larger forces are in control now.

Straying From The Party Line #3: The Lack of Unique Imagery in Donnie Brasco

I’ve spent a lot of time talking about Underrated Movies on this blog, but I’ve never really solved the question of why movies become underrated.  Donnie Brasco is one of the all-time great mob movies, but it didn’t earn as much box office as it deserved, didn’t get any Oscar love (Pacino is so much better here than in the other ‘90s movies he was nominated for) and it’s only dimly remembered today.

One of the reasons why is hinted at in the comments: After Lefty is summoned to be killed, thanks to Donnie’s betrayal, we cut to a shot of Donnie shooting holes in a target, implying that Donnie’s the one responsible for his death.  It’s a little too neat, but still works in a visceral way.

Tellingly, director Mike Newell, in his commentary, says that they discovered this juxtaposition in the editing room, and they only had that shooting range footage because they shot it for the trailer.  The producers had realized after seeing the dailies that they didn’t have the footage they needed to cut a trailer that told the story visually: The movie talked a lot about how Donnie was an FBI agent, but we there were no visuals that showedit.  This brings us to:
  • Deviations: No image we haven’t seen before, no framing sequence, no special skills are set up beforehand.
  • The Potential Problem: The dialogue in this movie is some of the best ever written and great performances from Depp and Pacino get the most out of it.  Newell (best known for Four Weddings and a Funeral) seemed like he would be a terrible fit for the material, but he actually crafts a fantastically taut, funny, nail-biting drama-thriller. But in retrospect, these three deviations set up a larger problem, and help explain why this movie failed to connect as well as some other mob movies.
  • Does the Movie Get Away With It? No. For me, this checklist has unexpectedly revealed a crucial flaw in this movie that I never would have detected without it: the conflict is not visualized enough.  If we had seen Joe in his role as a G-man, either in flashbacks to his training, flashforwards to the aftermath, or some other form of visualization, then the movie would have had more of a lasting impact.  Even when pulling a still yesterday to illustrate the boat scene, I couldn’t really find one that symbolized the conflict.  Newell, who came from a theater background, focused on tone, performance, and verisimilitude, all of which are fantastic, but a more symbolic visual impact would gone a long way to making a more indelible mark on the public consciousness.

The Ultimate Story Checklist: Donnie Brasco

Updated to the sixth and final checklist!
FBI agent Joe Pistone assumes the identity “Donnie Brasco” and infiltrates the mob by ingratiating himself with sad sack hitman Lefty Ruggiero, only to find himself caught up in a war between rival mobsters Sonny Red and Sonny Black. “Donnie” begins to feel divided loyalty, which upsets his bosses and his wife Maggie.
PART #1: CONCEPT 16/19
The Pitch: Does this concept excite everyone who hears about it?
Is the one sentence description uniquely appealing?
 Yes, a married FBI agent goes so deep undercover in the mob that he almost becomes a made man.
Does the concept contain an intriguing ironic contradiction?
 Yes, an undercover FBI agent finds his pitiful targets more sympathetic than his bosses.
Is this a story anyone can identify with, projected onto a bigger canvas, with higher stakes?
 Yes, being promoted over your hapless boss, but your undercover with the mob.
Story Fundamentals: Will this concept generate a strong story?
Is the concept simple enough to spend more time on character than plot?
 Yes. In the deleted scenes, needless complications, like Donnie getting audited, are cut out.
Is there one character that the audience will choose to be their “hero”?
 Yes, Donnie.
Does the story follow the progress of the hero’s problem, not the hero’s daily life? 
 Yes, we barely even see where he lives as Donnie. 
Does the story present a unique relationship?
 Yes. A ruthless undercover cop and the sad-sack mobster he targets.
Is at least one actual human being opposed to what the hero is doing?
 Yes, everybody he meets.
Does this challenge represent the hero’s greatest hope and/or greatest fear and/or an ironic answer to the hero’s question?
 Yes, both greatest hope (first Fed to be on track to be a made man) and greatest fear (loses family, almost gets turned)
Does something inside the hero have a particularly volatile reaction to the challenge?
 Yes.  His extraordinary self-control allows him unprecedented success, but it threatens to destroy him.
Does this challenge become something that is the not just hard for the hero to do (an obstacle) but hard for the hero to want to do (a conflict)?
 Yes, because he likes Lefty.
In the end, is the hero the only one who can solve the problem?
 Yes, he’s totally committed and the other Feds are just doing their job.
Does the hero permanently transform the situation and vice versa?
 Transform situation: He brings down the mob.  Transform the hero: He finally finds a relationship he won’t abandon for the job, but it’s with Lefty, not his wife.  In the end, he seems to have reverted to a normal life, but it’s dubious.
The Hook: Will this be marketable and generate word of mouth?
Does the story satisfy the basic human urges that get people to buy and recommend this genre?
 Yes, lots of whacking and suspense.
Does this story show us at least one image we haven’t seen before (that can be used to promote the final product)?
 Not really.  Promotional images were somewhat generic.  Maybe the tiger in the cage.  This was a real problem for the movie: it looked generic.
Is there at least one “Holy Crap!” scene (to create word of mouth)?
 No.  This movie had a hard time generating word of mouth.
Does the story contain a surprise that is not obvious from the beginning?
 Not really.
Is the story marketable without revealing the surprise?
Is the conflict compelling and ironic both before and after the surprise?
Believe: Do we recognize the hero as a human being?
Does the hero have a moment of humanity early on? (A funny, or kind, or oddball, or out-of-character, or comically vain, or unique-but-universal “I thought I was the only one who did that!” moment?)
 A few.  His humor in the fugazi scene. His desire to just hear his wife breathe.  His amusement that both bosses want him shave his mustache off.
Is the hero defined by ongoing actions and attitudes, not by backstory?
Does the hero have a well-defined public identity?
 Yes, in the mob: Donnie the jeweler, outside the mob: dedicated husband and agent.
Does the surface characterization ironically contrast with a hidden interior self?
 Yes, in the mob: undercover Fed, outside the mob: morally compromised lost soul
Does the hero have a consistent metaphor family (drawn from his or her job, background, or developmental state)?
 Yes, gangster. 
Does the hero have a default personality trait?
 Yes, he ‘s sullen and resentful both at home and on the job.
Does the hero have a default argument tactic?
 Yes, he plays it cool and silent, looks askance at the person, convinces the person that he’s the one who knows what’s going on.
Is the hero’s primary motivation for tackling this challenge strong, simple, and revealed early on?
 Well, it’s pretty selfless: take down the mob, but he’s clearly enjoying getting away from his family and going dark, in more ways than one.
Care: Do we feel for the hero?
Does the hero start out with a shortsighted or wrongheaded philosophy (or accept a false piece of advice early on)?
 “I gotta shave my mustache off.  Regulations.”  He’s trying to play if by the book, in both jobs.
Does the hero have a false or shortsighted goal in the first half?
 Yes, to infiltrate the mob.
Does the hero have an open fear or anxiety about his or her future, as well as a hidden, private fear?
 Open: Getting caught in a lie. Private: losing his soul to the mafia.
Is the hero physically and emotionally vulnerable?
 Just barely.  He’s pretty dominating in both.
Does the hero have at least one untenable great flaw we empathize with? (but…)
 He’s so dedicated that he abandons his family and beats up innocent people to preserve his cover.
Invest: Can we trust the hero to tackle this challenge?
…Is that great flaw (ironically) the natural flip-side of a great strength we admire?
 Yes, he’s the perfect infiltrator because he’s totally dedicated to it.
Is the hero curious?
 Yes, he’s constantly investigating. 
Is the hero generally resourceful?
 Yes, bluffs on fugazi, makes up Japan story, many more examples.
Does the hero have rules he or she lives by (either stated or implied)?
 “Don’t say nothing unless there’s a reason for it.” Always stay in character.  Be the colder one.
Is the hero surrounded by people who sorely lack his or her most valuable quality?
 Yes, no one else, in the feds or the mob, has his self-control and discipline.
…And is the hero willing to let them know that, subtly or directly?
 Yes and no.  In the mob, he lacks a forceful personality. This is in fact the secret of his success: his ability to blend into the background. He mostly keeps his own counsel until directly confronted.  Outside the mob, however, he’s quick to complain and mock his bosses’ incompetence.
Is the hero already doing something active when we first meet him or her?
 Yes, he’s trying to get in good with Lefty.
Does the hero have (or claim) decision-making authority?
 Yes.  He’s running the show, even when others think they are.
Does the hero use pre-established special skills from his or her past to solve problems (rather than doing what anybody would do)?
 Yes, knows how to evaluate jewelry. We learn in the special features that the real life Donnie was sent to a six-month jewelry program, but it’s never mentioned in the movie.  That’s okay because we can guess it.
PART #3: STRUCTURE (If the story is about the solving of a large problem) 20/21
1st Quarter: Is the challenge laid out in the first quarter?
When the story begins, is the hero becoming increasingly irritated about his or her longstanding social problem (while still in denial about an internal flaw)?
 Yes, he’s getting in good with mob, but calls his wife and asks to hear her breathe. 
Does this problem become undeniable due to a social humiliation at the beginning of the story?
 Yes, he misses Christmas with his family in order to keep his cover up with Lefty.
Does the hero discover an intimidating opportunity to fix the problem?
 Yes, Lefty now feels bonded to him.
Does the hero hesitate until the stakes are raised?
 Yes, he avoids getting sucked into Lefty’s world at first, until he realizes how valuable the connection is.
Does the hero commit to pursuing the opportunity by the end of the first quarter?
 Yes, Lefty introduces him to Sonny Black as “a friend of ours”, the first step to getting made.
2nd Quarter: Does the hero try the easy way in the second quarter?
Does the hero’s pursuit of the opportunity quickly lead to an unforeseen conflict with another person?
 Yes.  He winds up caught between Lefty and Sonny Black.  His wife turns against him.
Does the hero try the easy way throughout the second quarter?
 Yes, he tries to avoid hurting anybody, tries to get home enough to keep his family happy.
Does the hero have a little fun and get excited about the possibility of success?
 Yes. Has a lot of amusing conversations, bonds with Lefty, feeds the lion. He tells his wife he’ll be out soon.
Does the easy way lead to a big crash around the midpoint, resulting in the loss of a safe space and/or sheltering relationship?
 Sort of.  He helps beat up the Japanese maitre’d, his wife decides to divorce him.
3rd Quarter: Does the hero try the hard way in the third quarter?
Does the hero try the hard way from this point on?
 Yes, goes full mobster, freezes out wife.
Does the hero find out who his or her real friends and real enemies are?
 Yes, realizes that he’s in more danger for being a mobster than being a fed.
Do the stakes, pace, and motivation all escalate at this point?
 Yes, he almost gets made, gets caught up in a mob war, loses family
Does the hero learn from mistakes in a painful way?
 Outside the mob, he suffers through marriage counseling.  In the mob, he has to cut up bodies.
Does a further setback lead to a spiritual crisis?
 Yes, hits his wife, feels certain he’ll have to kill someone soon in the mob.
4th Quarter: Does the challenge climax in the fourth quarter?
Does the hero adopt a corrected philosophy after the spiritual crisis?
 Yes. “Fuck the rules.”
After that crisis, does the hero finally commit to pursuing a corrected goal, which still seems far away?
 Yes, he realizes that he has to get out now.
Before the final quarter of the story begins, (if not long before) has your hero switched to being proactive, instead of reactive?
 Yes, proactive from the beginning.
Despite these proactive steps, is the timeline unexpectedly moved up, forcing the hero to improvise for the finale?
 Yes.  He’s ordered to make a hit before he can do the bust.
Do all strands of the story and most of the characters come together for the climactic confrontation?
 Not at all, Donnie disappears and misses the big confrontation / revelation of his identity.
Does the hero’s inner struggle climax shortly after (or possible at the same time as) his or her outer struggle?
 Yes, basically, it never really ends.  He’s still conflicted, even though it’s over.
Is there an epilogue/ aftermath/ denouement in which the challenge is finally resolved (or succumbed to), and we see how much the hero has changed (possibly through reversible behavior)
 Yes.  His family accepts him but he’s disgusted by his medal.
PART #4: SCENEWORK 20/20 (Sample Scene: Lefty seeks to go behind Sonny Black’s back to set up his own meeting in Florida with the notorious Santo Trifficante. He has Donnie borrow a boat for this purpose, but Sonny Black knows everything, and he crashes the party.  Lefty bitterly assumes that Donnie has betrayed him, and shuns him.  Sonny takes Donnie aside and elevates him above Lefty.)
The Set-Up: Does this scene begin with the essential elements it needs?
Were tense and/or hopeful (and usually false) expectations for this interaction established beforehand?
 Yes, Lefty thinks that he’s going to bond with Santo Trafficante, and he even buys him a greeting card.
Does the scene eliminate small talk and repeated beats by cutting out the beginning (or possibly even the middle)?
 Yes, both.
Is this an intimidating setting that keeps characters active?
 Yes.  They’re stuck on a boat out at sea, Donnie can only be exiled as far as the bough.  People are there to have a party, but it’s deadly serious.
Is one of the scene partners not planning to have this conversation (and quite possibly has something better to do)?
 Yes, in the second half, where Donnie gets cornered by Sonny.
Is there at least one non-plot element complicating the scene?
 Yes, the party, Florida trivia.
Does the scene establish its own mini-ticking-clock (if only through subconscious anticipation)?
 Sort of: it’s a borrowed boat, and they only have a limited amount of time with Sonny.
The Conflict: Do the conflicts play out in a lively manner?
Does this scene both advance the plot and reveal character through emotional reactions?
 Yes, both.  Donnie advances in the mafia.  Lefty thinks Donnie betrayed him.  Donny aligns himself with Sonny.  Lefty is devastated.
Does the audience have (or develop) a rooting interest in this scene (which may sometimes shift)?
 The audience is very torn at this point between rooting for / sympathizing with Donnie vs. Lefty, which is good.
Are two agendas genuinely clashing (rather than merely two personalities)?
 Yes, very much so.
Does the scene have both a surface conflict and a suppressed conflict (one of which is the primary conflict in this scene)?
 Yes.  Lefty: Surface: you told Sonny, Suppressed: you broke our friendship, Sonny: Surface: I want you here in Florida. Suppressed: I want to betray Lefty.
Is the suppressed conflict (which may or may not come to the surface) implied through subtext (and/or called out by the other character)?
 Yes.  “Now, that’s what I call a boat” means “I know everything”.  Sonny tries to avoid saying “You belong to me now” until he has to say it at the end.
Are the characters cagy (or in denial) about their own feelings?
Do characters use verbal tricks and traps to get what they want, not just direct confrontation?
 Yes, Sonny hits Donny with the fact that he knows about the club at just the moment to throw him off balance and get him to agree to stay in Florida.
Is there re-blocking, including literal push and pull between the scene partners (often resulting in just one touch)?
 Yes, lots. Yes: just one touch.  Lefty and Donnie don’t touch (in fact they repel each other to opposite ends of the boat).  Donnie avoids touching Sonny until Sonny reveals that Donny belongs to him and throws a menacing arm around him.
Are objects given or taken, representing larger values?
 Yes.  Sonny gives Lefty the matchbook to let him know that he knows.  Lefty throws away his greeting card, but takes he hundred dollar bill out first.
The Outcome: Does this scene change the story going forward?
As a result of this scene, does at least one of the scene partners end up doing something that he or she didn’t intend to do when the scene began?
 Yes, Donnie is forced to swear allegiance to Sonny Black
Does the outcome of the scene ironically reverse (and/or ironically fulfill) the original intention?
 Yes, Donnie wanted to advance along with Lefty, but instead he advances by unwittingly betraying Lefty.
Are previously-asked questions answered and new questions posed?
 Previously-asked: Will Donnie get the boat? Does Sonny know about Lefty’s side-game?  New: will they find out it was a federal boat? Will Lefty forgive Donny?
Does the scene cut out early, on a question (possibly to be answered instantly by the circumstances of the next scene)?
Is the audience left with a growing hope and/or fear for what might happen next? (Not just in the next scene, but generally)
 We’re filled with a growing dread for the future, now that Donnie is alienated from Lefty and more tied to Sonny Black.
Empathetic: Is the dialogue true to human nature?
Does the writing demonstrate empathy for all of the characters?
 Yes.  We feel intensely for most of these people.
Does each of the characters, including the hero, have a limited perspective?
 Yes. We see how much Joe’s wife suffers (shoveling the walk, etc.) but he can’t imagine it.
Do the characters consciously and unconsciously prioritize their own wants, rather than the wants of others?
 Yes.  All of the others only serve themselves.  The mafia code is a joke.  FBI mostly watches its own ass.  Donnie himself, though, is fairly selfless, pursuing the mob despite have little personal motivation to do so.  However, it soon becomes clear that he’s drawn to this fantasy life for neurotic reasons, and reluctant to leave even after the job is done. 
Are the characters resistant to openly admitting their feelings (to others and even to themselves)?
 Yes.  Therapy is useless.  He and Lefty confront each other in the most oblique way possible.
Do the characters avoid saying things they wouldn’t say and doing things they wouldn’t do?
 Yes, very much so, even if that makes the viewer play catch up.
Do the characters interrupt each other often?
Specific: Is the dialogue specific to this world and each personality?
Does the dialogue capture the jargon and tradecraft of the profession and/or setting?
 Yes, yes, a million times yes. The “Fuggetaboutit” monologue is famous. The difference between friend of mine / friend of ours, etc.
Are there additional characters with distinct metaphor families, default personality traits, and default argument strategies from the hero’s?
 Metaphor familes are all fairly similar: He imitating them seamlessly and they’re all sort of the same, Default personality trait: Lefty: self-loathing, chiseling.  , Argument strategy: Lefty: cites made-up facts, tries to confuse the other person.
Heightened: Is the dialogue more pointed and dynamic than real talk?
Is the dialogue more concise than real talk?
Does the dialogue have more personality than real talk?
Are there minimal commas in the dialogue (the lines are not prefaced with Yes, No, Well, Look, or the other character’s name)?
Do non-professor characters speak without dependent clauses, conditionals, or parallel construction?
Are the non-3-dimensional characters impartially polarized into head, heart and gut?
 Characters are all three dimensional.
Strategic: Are certain dialogue scenes withheld until necessary?
Does the hero have at least one big “I understand you” moment with a love interest or primary emotional partner?
Yes, ironically with Lefty, when they talk in the car.
Is exposition withheld until the hero and the audience are both demanding to know it?
 Yes.  Information about the mafia set-up and Joe’s mission comes out slowly.
Is there one gutpunch scene, where the subtext falls away and the characters really lay into each other?
 Yes, literally, when he hits his wife.
PART #6: TONE 10/10
Genre: Does the story tap into pre-established expectations?
Is the story limited to one genre (or multiple genres that are merged from the beginning?)
 Yes.  Mafia
Is the story limited to sub-genres that are compatible with each other, without mixing metaphors?
 Yes. Undercover fed.
Does the ending satisfy most of the expectations of the genre, and defy a few others?
 Yes, the mob has a falling out, which is common, but the feds win, which is uncommon.
Separate from the genre, is a consistent mood (goofy, grim, ‘fairy tale’, etc.) established early and maintained throughout?
 Yes, darkly-comic but tense and paranoid, established by the fugazi scene. Donnie is in danger for her life, but he has all the power, and dominates Lefty. Donnie already casually endangers an innocent person (the person who gave lefty the jewel) to serve his purpose, implying danger is more to his soul than body.
Framing: Does the story set, reset, upset and ultimately exceed its own expectations?
Is there a dramatic question posed early on, which will establish in the audience’s mind which moment will mark the end of the story?
 Yes, his wife asks him how much longer.
Does the story use framing devices to establish genre, mood and expectations?
 Somewhat, the device of the cutting away to anonymous camera snapping pictures creates a sense of paranoia and doom coming from the feds.
Are there characters whose situations prefigure various fates that might await the hero?
 Yes, Lefty, the other inept undercover Fed, Bruno Kirby’s character that gets killed for being sloppy. etc.
Does foreshadowing create anticipation and suspense (and refocus the audience’s attention on what’s important)?
 Yes, lots of unexplained half-scenes get us interested in what each gangster is scheming against the others. 
Are reversible behaviors used to foreshadow and then confirm change?
 Yes.  Donnie finally starts saying stuff he doesn’t need to say.  The first shot is a close up of his eyes looking predatory, the last shot is a close-up of his eyes looking remorseful.
Is the dramatic question answered at the very end of the story?
 Yes, he returns to his wife in the last scene.
Difficult: Is the meaning of the story derived from a fundamental moral dilemma?
Can the overall theme be stated in the form of an irreconcilable good vs. good (or evil vs. evil) dilemma?
 Yes. Being a good father/husband/friend vs. being a good cop.
Is a thematic question asked out loud (or clearly implied) in the first half, and left open?
 Midway: After missing his daughter’s confirmation, Donnie asks her, “Who made you?” Then we see him wonder the same thing about himself: God?  The FBI?  Lefty?  Sonny Black?  Then he asks her: “Why did he make you?”
Do the characters consistently have to choose between goods, or between evils, instead of choosing between good and evil?
 Yes, break cover vs. hurt innocents, etc.
Grounded: Do the stakes ring true to the world of the audience?
Does the story reflect the way the world works?
 Yes, the mafia is totally de-romanticized.  Very work-a-day.
Does the story have something authentic to say about this type of setting (Is it based more on observations of this type of setting than ideas about it)?
 Very much so.  It’s a true story. Great contrasting of New York and Florida.
Does the story include twinges of real life national pain?
 Yes, the over-surveillance of the ‘70s.
Are these issues and the overall dilemma addressed in a way that avoids moral hypocrisy?
Do all of the actions have real consequences?
 Yes.  The worst things that could happen keep happening, at work and at home.  “Donnie” and his wife have to go into witness protection.
Subtle: Is the theme interwoven throughout so that it need not be discussed often?
Do many small details throughout subtly and/or ironically tie into the thematic dilemma?
 Yes.  Lions are a great running metaphor.
Are one or more objects representing larger ideas exchanged throughout the story, growing in meaning each time?
 Yes, the greeting card, the surveillance photos, the boat, the tape recorder and the tapes, the oranges, the article about the boat.
Untidy: Is the dilemma ultimately irresolvable?
Does the ending tip towards one side of the thematic dilemma without resolving it entirely?
 Yes. Family loyalties are ultimately more important than work loyalties.  He chooses to go back to being a cop, a husband, and a father, but he still feels like a gangster inside and he can’t forgive himself for getting Lefty killed.
Does the story’s outcome ironically contrast with the initial goal?
 Yes, he feels worse about betraying his fake family than his real family.
In the end, is the plot not entirely tidy (some small plot threads left unresolved, some answers left vague)?
Do the characters refuse (or fail) to synthesize the meaning of the story, forcing the audience to do that?
 Yes, Donnie literally doesn’t speak again after Lefty is killed.
Final Score: 118 out of 122 (Almost perfect!)