Veteran Italian filmmaker Marco Bellocchio’s epic gangster drama The Traitor takes a conventional mobster narrative, but tells it with a great deal of technical and procedural complexity.
Low ranking, but faithful and reliable foot soldier Tommaso Buscetta (Pierfrancesco Favino) is convinced by an Italian magistrate (Fausto Russo Alesi) to become the first snitch against La Cosa Nostra after the mafioso grieves for the loss of his two sons, who were gunned down during the heroin wars of the 1980s. The unprecedented information provided by Buscetta led to a media circus and controversy in his community, as many working class people depended upon the mob for work. Across trials that lasted for nearly a decade, Buscetta’s cooperation led to the filing of a whopping 366 arrest warrants.
Bellocchio’s approach is rigorous and rich in period detail and context, which is fine for a stage setting opening hour that’s packed to bursting with cultural detail, but grows tedious as The Traitor shifts gears into a courtroom drama for the majority of its 150 minute running time. The first and final trials depicted are necessary to the story, but there’s a decidedly flabby forty-five minutes between them that adds nothing new, becomes repetitive, and drags Bellocchio’s film down. It’s fun to watch Buscetta confront those who try to discredit him in court, but the legal drama isn’t particularly engaging or insightful as the story surrounding it.
But throughout The Traitor, Favino remains electrifying as a “man of honour” who insists he has broken his omerta, but is rather informing on people who turned La Cosa Nostra into a flawed and damaged shadow of its former self. He brings a lot of energy to The Traitor, even when Bellocchio’s material is at its driest.