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Chazz Palminteri wrote the script for this excellent story of an Italian American boy Lillo Brancato who grows up in the 1960s caught between the strong influences of his blue-collar, straight- arrow father Robert De Niro and a Mafia chieftain Palminteri who is his all-purpose mentor. De Niro makes his directorial debut with this production and, except for a little stiffness, does very well by the characters and their world. The story does not go precisely where one might expect it to go: Palminteri knows better than to force the central figure to choose between the two most important men in his life, and he doesn't fill time with stock drama about crime or family conflict. Joe Pesci makes an extremely effective and uncredited appearance at the end as a man who doesn't have to do more than speak softly to communicate how dangerous he is. --Tom Keogh