THE TRAITOR, from Sony Pictures Classics (U.S. theatrical premiere at New York's Film Forum January 31, 2020), is a pummeling, passionate, pulsating true crime saga/bio-pic about the biggest ever exposé, trial and conviction of hundreds of Mafia members. The driver of so much ado here is the charismatic larger than life Sicilian kingpin Tommaso Buscetta (Pierfrancesco Favino, in a show-stopping performance as if this steamrolling film could ever be stopped). Buscetta, at the film's volcanic center, is the notorious late 20th Century Mafia criminal, survivor and informer, whose riveting life of crime, escapes, violence, suicide attempts, extraditions, assassinations and u-turn as historic whistleblower spanned several decades (the 40s - 90s) and places (Rome, Sicily, Brazil, the U.S.). Buscetta was a wrecking ball against the Mafia on two continents as he helped bring (through his snitching) close to 500 mobsters to justice. Phew, indeed!
This latest film from Italian master Marco Bellocchio (Fists in the Pocket), which was understandably Italy's official bid for a 2020 Oscar nom, zig zags in time and place through Buscetta's preternaturally eventful life. Less about his crimes as a Mafia big shot, the story focuses on episodes following his turning informant which also, uh, triggered the notorious circus-like 1986 massive Maxi Trial in Palermo of many hundreds of Mafiosi. Also, a breathtaking morality tale of loves, family, betrayals, and, arguably, redemption.
In addition to Favino's muscular star turn as the ratting protagonist, all supporting perfs are perfection, most notably those of Fausto Russo Alesi as doomed Judge Giovanni Falcone, with whom Buscetta forged a fateful friendship; Maria Fernanda Cândido as Buscetta's sexy younger and devoted Brazilian wife and too many actors to mention superbly portraying his good and mostly bad partners in crime.
Noisy and frenetic, this is an an explosive Italian film in the best sense, often going Fellini/Sorrentino flashy but never going over the top or beyond the realm of authenticity (except for fudging a few U.S. locations). Other plusses are the molto Italiano music sound track, some gorgeous scenery and production design, especially for the circus-like Mafia trials. The frequent Sicilian dialogue and wise inclusion of archival material are further evidence of a respect for detail.
Favino's Buscetta creation (thanks also to Bellochio!) is so appealing a character, he's not just another bad guy you can write off or just plain "off." Favino's made man incarnation makes Favino an actor's actor, layered, intelligent and worthy of study. Another astonishing Bellochio accomplishment is that the filmmaker managed to compress into a coherent feature so eventful a life of crime, historic episodes and consequences that could otherwise have filled an entertaining six hour series
Some viewers may balk that there's too much of a man's world oozing here, with too little resonance for today. Others may find the ending somewhat flaccid, including an awkward flashback scene dropped in as if an afterthought.