This true story follows undercover FBI agent Joe Pistone as he infiltrates the mafia of New York. Befriending Lefty Ruggiero, Pistone is able to embed himself in a mafia faction lead by Sonny Black. Ruggiero and Pistone become tight as the group goes about collecting money for ‘the bosses’. Eventually, the group hits the big time when Black himself is promoted to boss.
The trials and tribulations of the undercover work become more than Pistone can bear, as the goons surrounding him begin to suspect they have a mole in their midst. To further complicate matters, Pistone begins to identify and care for his mafia friends, especially Lefty. When he stops reporting to the FBI daily as is required, his superiors decide the time has come to pull the plug on the operation. The real dilemma is afforded to Pistone, who knows if he walks away from the mafia, Ruggiero will be the one punished.
In Joseph Pistone’s report, he lists Lefty, Lefty Guns, Lefty Two Guns, Half Cocked, and Horse Cock as false names for Benjamin Ruggiero (Pacino)
The word ‘fuck’ is used 185 times.
The film’s version of “Lefty” Ruggiero is an amalgam of the real “Lefty” and the real “Sonny Black” Napolitano.
When the project was in its first stages, Joe Pesci was the first and main choice for Nicky. But after the release of Goodfellas (1990), the idea gradually faded.
Joe Pesci was ‘Mike Newell (I)”s first choice for Nicky.
When Donnie and Nicky are looking at the headline in the Newspaper about the boss getting killed, they are looking at the picture of mob boss Carmine Galante who was killed in back of a Brooklyn, N.Y. restaurant in 1979.
Lefty’s real name is Benjamin which, in Hebrew, means “son of the right hand”.
Johnny Depp met with the actual Joseph D. Pistone a number of times to gain knowledge and expertise for the role. He also took gun firing lessons from the FBI.
The gangsters’ term for a counterfeit jewel, “fugesi,” was adopted by the filmmakers from the name of a local taxi service.
The scene of Joe Pistone practicing on the FBI’s firing range was inserted at the insistence of the studio, who wanted a shot of Johnny Depp firing a gun for the movie’s trailer.
This is the second film where Joe Pesci was considered for a role that eventually went to Bruno Kirby. The first was The Godfather: Part II (1974), the role in question being that of the young Clemenza.
During a two day break in filming, Michael Madsen impulsively proposed to and married DeAnna Madsen. According to Madsen, when he told Al Pacino, Pacino was disgusted with Madsen’s impulsiveness.
The breakfast scene where Donnie bets his kids $20 that they can’t get through the whole meal without saying “three words”- and his daughter replies “you lose”- is based on a famous incident involving President Calvin Coolidge and writer Dorothy Parker. Seated next to Coolidge (who was known as “Silent Cal” for his quiet manner and disdain of small talk), Parker turned to the President and said “Mr. Coolidge, I’ve made a bet against a fellow who said it was impossible to get more than two words out of you” to which Coolidge allegedly replied, “You lose”.
At various points Tom Cruise, John Travolta and Andy Garcia were all previously attached to star; Stephen Frears to direct.
Despite the fact that this was filmed in Super 35, “Filmed in Panavision” is listed in the end credits.
The movie ends with the implication that Lefty was killed after being “sent for”. In real life, the FBI intercepted Lefty on the way to being killed and arrested him. Sonny Black, however, was “sent for” and subsequently murdered, his body turning up a year later on Staten Island. The individual who had orchestrated his murder, Joe Massino, wasn’t convicted until 2005. Lefty was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder, extortion, distribution of a controlled dangerous substance, and running an illegal gambling operation; he was sentenced to 20 years in prison, but received early parole in 1992 after it was discovered he was suffering from terminal cancer. He died of lung cancer in 1994.