The Traitor Movie Review: An intense portrait of inner turmoil and betrayal
The movie is a biopic, but it also has the nature of a procedural and director Marco Bellocchio presents an unglamorous portrait of the Cosa Nostra and its dismantling in the 80s
Ever wondered how the life of Henry Hill (from Goodfellas) would've looked after he ended up in the witness protection programme? Well, The Traitor gives you a good picture. By training his lens on Tommaso Buscetta, one of Italy's first mafia informants, director Marco Bellocchio presents an unglamorous portrait of the Cosa Nostra and its dismantling in the 80s.
Anyone familiar with stories on the Italian/Sicilian mafia knows that the code of silence, Omerta, is a big deal for these guys. So it goes without saying that there will be huge repercussions when one of them decides to rat on his own kind. Buscetta, also known as the "Boss of Two Worlds", and Don Masino by his close ones, breaks the code after becoming disenchanted with the hypocrisy of an organisation that he served for a long time.
The world in The Traitor is quite close to that in Goodfellas or The Irishman. In this film, there is a mention of a mafia family originating from Corleone, but this is a whole different family. A family with no principles. The older generations wouldn't touch women and children, but the new generation has gone in the opposite direction. The Cosa Nostra no longer follows the original principles, which is what compels Buscetta to break his silence.
Director: Marco Bellocchio
Cast: Pierfrancesco Favino, Luigi Lo Cascio, Fausto Russo Alesi
Streaming on: Mubi
But the film is not on Buscetta's side either. He is not a saint - he has done his share of murder. Much of the film is told from Buscetta's point-of-view, staying with him from start to end. He is played with enough charm, warmth and vulnerability by the terrific Pierfrancesco Favino, an actor whom I've always seen as the true successor of Anthony Quinn. The film successfully reflects the character's inner turmoil and paranoia as he looks over his shoulder while moving from one part of the world to another. He admits his shortcomings more than once, especially when it comes to the neglect his sons faced. He had also killed somebody, but never once do we see him exhibiting regret for the family of the man whom he killed. His only regret seems to be that he couldn't save his sons from danger.
The non-linear narrative can be confusing at times because some background details are left vague. But regardless of that, Bellocchio takes great care to inform us, with year and location titles, where the characters are at any given time, and how they are connected. The film also takes short detours into the past and a couple of guilt-triggered hallucinatory episodes that overwhelm Buscetta.
The Traitor is a biopic, but for the most part, it also has the nature of a procedural, navigating conversations Buscetta has with an empathetic judge and a tense courtroom sequence that forms much of the film's latter portions. The court scenes are staged in such a way that it resembles a gladiatorial ring. One can imagine Buscetta as a gladiator and the resentful mafiosos caged behind him as tigers and hyenas ready to engage in a fierce battle with the opponent. The poignant ending recalls The Godfather-III and The Irishman, reminding us, once again, of the pointlessness of it all.