“The Traitor”, which was recently selected as the Italian entry for Best International Feature Film Oscar, is a sprawling crime drama film which is not wholly successful in its ambitious but flawed narrative. While occasionally fascinating us with its compelling real-life criminal hero, the movie does not engage us enough due to its rather scattershot storytelling and shallow characterization, and I must tell you that I frequently felt confused and distant during its 151-minute running time.
The movie mainly revolves around the later years of Tommaso Buscetta (Pierfrancesco Favino), who was once one of the most prominent members of Sicilian Mafia but later became the first Sicilian Mafia boss testifying against his organization. During the opening scene unfolded in a private meeting held somewhere in Southern Italy, 1980, we are introduced to not only him but also a number of other Sicilian Mafia bosses, and the movie also informs us a bit on how powerful their criminal organization was at that time. Although Buscetta has been technically a fugitive who escaped from a prison several years ago, he has been lived comfortably along with his third wife and their children in Brazil, and he still has considerable influence on his organization while also heavily involved in its international drug trafficking.
However, things gradually get worse for him and many of his close associates during next several years. As one of the top-ranking Mafia bosses decides to go for more power and domination, more than 100 figures including two of Buscetta’s sons get killed as a consequence, and Buscetta comes to see that he must do something about this increasingly unstable circumstance, though he simply wants to lead a peaceful daily life with his third wife and their children without any interference.
And then he suddenly gets arrested by the Brazilian Police, which treat him and his wife in a quite harsh way as shown from a brief but brutal montage sequence. He subsequently finds himself extradited to Italy, and then he encounters Judge Giovanni Falcone (Fausto Russo Alesi), an unflappable man of principle and integrity who is very determined to bring down the Sicilian Mafia through Buscetta’s collaboration. Although he is understandably not so eager to collaborate with Judge Falcone, Buscetta eventually finds himself talking to Judge Falcone more than expected because of his longtime disillusionment with what has been going on in the Sicilian Mafia, which, in his view, has betrayed and corrupted its code of honor as pursuing more money and power.
Thanks to Buscetta’s testament, Judge Falonce can indict a bunch of Sicilian Mafia bosses for their crimes, and the middle act of the movie, which is the best part of the film in my trivial opinion, is often amusing for a number of absurd moments unfolded during the following trial. While confined behind bars, those Sicilian Mafia bosses frequently show impertinent behaviors, and they certainly give lots of headaches to the judge presiding over the trial as turning the trial into a sensational public circus.
Nevertheless, the mood becomes a bit calmer when Buscetta finally presents himself at the trial and then bravely confronts some of his old associates. Although he gets insulted and ridiculed a lot as expected, he mostly maintains his phlegmatic appearance pretty well, and he certainly makes a better impression compared to another Sicilian Mafia member who also came to testify for a similar personal reason. As the strong center of the movie, Pierfrancesco Favino is electrifying with his subdued but charismatic presence, and he is particularly wonderful during a few moments during the trial when his character cannot help but become a bit aggressive and sarcastic.
In the end, most of accused Sicilian Mafia bosses come to receive heavy punishment, and Buscetta and his family are put into the witness protection program as promised to him from the beginning, but then there comes an urgent circumstance requiring his testament again several years later. Although he is well aware of the considerable danger in going back to Italy, he decides to come into spotlight again, and there is a sad scene where he comes to learn of what exactly happened to his two dead sons.
Unfortunately, the movie loses more of its narrative momentum around that point, and we become more distant to its story and characters without much care and attention. Although Buscetta remains to be a compelling hero as before thanks to Favio’s solid performance, the screenplay written by director Marco Bellocchio, who previous made “Vincere” (2009), and his four co-writers does not bring much humanity or personality to various characters surrounding Buscetta, and it is also often uneven and confusing as trying to cover the 20 years of Buscetta’s life with too many details.
Considering how steadily Bellocchio has worked during last 57 years since he made his first feature film in 1962, “The Traitor” is an admirable effort to be appreciated to some degree for its considerable technical competence, but it is still dissatisfying on the whole, and I would rather recommend you several better Italian crime drama films such as “Gomorrah” (2008). It is a shame that I cannot like “The Traitor” enough for recommendation despite a number of good elements in the film, but I sincerely hope that Bellocchio will keep going on as usual while giving us better works.