‘The Traitor’ review: authentic Italian gangster thriller is an offer you shouldn’t refuse

You've seen Martin Scorsese's '90s mob epic, but this Italian Mafia drama is the real 'Goodfellas'

Some 30 years after Goodfellas exploded onto screens  and became cinema’s greatest Mafia informant story, we meet The Traitor. Co-written and directed by veteran filmmaker Marco Bellocchio, this epic may not quite match up to Martin Scorsese’s classic but it has its own seductive blend of earthiness and style. It’s a purer more authentic thrill-ride that offers a different experience to Scorsese’s Italian-American blend of scuzzy glamour.

Pierfrancesco Favino (Angels & Demons, World War Z) plays real-life Sicilian Mafia boss Tommaso Buscetta. In 1980, Buscetta is living in Brazil, having begun the film at a summit where rival mob families divide the spoils of their lucrative heroin business. Unfortunately, one of Buscetta’s rivals, Totò Riina (Calì Nicola), sees an opportunity and exploits his absence from Italy. Soon, Riina has scores of Buscetta’s men and associates killed. A violent, lengthy montage shows many of these assassinations in gory detail. The killings continue before Buscetta loses two sons in the conflict and is eventually arrested in 1983. By June 1984, Buscetta has been extradited back to Italy and – following a suicide attempt – finally turns informant.

Buscetta divulges secrets to judge Giovanni Falcone (Fausto Russo Alesi), a persistent thorn in the side of the mob, with his own high profile. Buscetta explains how the Cosa Nostra (Sicilian Mafia) is structured, who the key players are and how the decisions are made. He names names and confirms crimes so that a wealth of secrets can snowball into a major legal case. Buscetta’s evidence turns into a lively, compelling courtroom drama where witnesses are catcalled from defendants in adjacent cells, accusations of murder are made and crimes fiercely denied. Justice is seen to be done, though it comes at a cost.

The Traitor
‘The Traitor’ tells the story of the first Mafia informant in Sicily during the 1980s. Credit: Alamy

At two and a half hours, The Traitor is a lengthy saga that packs in a lot of juicy criminal detail. It’s not a film to watch casually and demands the kind of forensic attention to detail Falcone makes use of throughout. Character actor Favino, who plays Buscetta, has often been seen in smaller parts, but he excels here as he did as the protagonist in 2015’s Suburra, a very different but equally great Italian gangster thriller. Nicola, too, deserves plaudits as the chilling Riina.

Bellocchio presents a gripping, intriguing mob saga that contains vivid scenes of murderous carnage as well as studied, factual rigour. In the end, it’s hard not to dwell on the organisation that made the actions depicted in The Traitor acceptable to those who carried them out and, by extension, the overarching system that helps perpetuate it. These thoughts, if ruminated on too deeply, can be as chilling the deeds of individuals in the film.

Details

  • Director: Marco Bellocchio
  • Starring: Pierfrancesco Favino, Luigi Lo Cascio, Fausto Russo Alesi
  • Release date: July 24 (Digital and virtual theatrical screenings available)
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