VOD film review: The Traitor
Bianca Garner | On 28, Jul 2020
Director: Marco Bellocchio
Cast: Pierfrancesco Favino, Calì Nicola, Fausto Russo Alesi, Maria Fernanda Candido
Watch The Traitor online in the UK: BFI Player / Curzon Home Cinema / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Rakuten TV / Google Play
In 1984, the criminal underworld of the Cosa Nostra was shaken up when mobster Tommaso Buscetta became one of its first members to turn pentito (informant). Buscetta provided important testimony at the 1986/87 Maxi Trial, the largest anti-Mafia trial in history, which saw 338 people being convicted and sentenced to a total of 2,665 years, including life sentences handed to 19 Mafia bosses.
He is the subject of Marco Bellocchio’s The Traitor, an epic crime drama on the scale of The Godfather, although it’s a far less romanticised portal of the Mafia. In The Traitor, the violence comes slow and steady, but when it erupts on-screen, it’s brutal and bloody.
It’s 1980 and Buscetta (Pierfrancesco Favino) is living in Brazil with his third wife, Cristina (Maria Fernanda Candido). He’s left Sicily after attending a summit where rival mob families divided the spoils of their heroin business. Buscetta wants to settle down and become more of a family man. He has, after all, been a ‘soldier’ for the Cosa Nostra since he was a ‘bambino’. Unfortunately, one of Buscetta’s rivals, Totò Riina (Calì Nicola), sees an opportunity and exploits his absence from Italy. In an act of revenge and dominance, Riina sets about eliminating those closest to Buscetta, including close family members.
As a result, Buscetta loses two sons in the conflict and when he’s eventually arrested in 1983, he decides to cooperate after a failed suicide attempt. Fast forward a year, and Buscetta is extradited back to Italy, where he finally spills all of the secrets of the Cosa Nostra to judge Giovanni Falcone (Fausto Russo Alesi), leading to the infamous court case.
In terms of production values, it appears no cost was spared in recreating the 1980s. The film looks stylish and slick, as if Michael Mann’s Heat met Martin Scorese’s The Irishman. Where those films contained a colder colour palette, The Traitor has a warmer tone full of rich browns, light greys and crisp whites. When we see blood, it’s almost a shock to the senses; the film’s opening 30 minutes are a quick, sudden, wonderfully tense montage of brutality.
Favino is absolutely superb as Buscetta, a complex and fascinating character who says very little but when he does divulge information, he does so in a way that demands our full, rapt attention. However, it’s hard to warm to a man like Buscetta and scenes in which he has nightmares of witnessing his own funeral, or seeing the ghosts of his sons, don’t really work. A few flashbacks help to show his rise in the Cosa Nostra and try to present him as a man of principles but we barely have time to get to know the real man behind the Don Masino persona.
Maria Fernanda Candido delivers a good performance as Buscetta’s wife but the film devotes very little time to exploring their relationship. Special mention must also be made to Calì Nicola who is truly chilling as Riina.
Where the film falters is its length. With a runtime of 2 hours and 35 minutes, The Traitor feels a little too stuffed. At times it’s hard to keep track of who all of the side characters are. Certain scenes feel unnecessary and don’t really benefit the story. Until the court case begins, our attention begins to waver. One has to wonder whether this story would have been better suited to a TV series.
While there’s enough here to entertain die-hard Mafia film fanatics, casual viewers may find the film difficult to follow. If you’re able to stick with it, then The Traitor is worth your time, but you may want to devote an entire afternoon to fully absorb and appreciate this mammoth epic.