When I sat down to watch “The Traitor,” an Italian film that tells the true story of the man who almost single-handedly brought down the crime organization Cosa Nostra, I was expecting an intensely violent mob movie. The poster for the movie feels very reminiscent of “The Godfather” and other classic gangster movies, and the dark tone of the film’s trailer overwhelmingly felt like something American audiences would expect from a director like Martin Scorsese.
I will admit, I’m not the biggest fan of mob movies. There are a lot of fantastic mafia films, such as “Goodfellas” or “The Godfather,” but I’ve personally found a lot of the stories just blend together. They often follow the same tropes — a group of men getting in over their head in illegal activity, an intense focus on family and loyalty and all of the heavy Italian accents and food you could ask for. Considering “The Traitor” is a film of this genre that is actually from and set in Italy, I assumed it would convey many of these same ideas — just in a different language.
“The Traitor,” directed by Marco Bellocchio, was far from the by-the-numbers mob movie I anticipated. It’s more of a true-crime drama that just so happens to center on the Italian mafia.
The main character of the film is a man named Tommaso Buscetta, played by Pierfrancesco Favino. Buscetta used to be a key player in Cosa Nostra, the Sicilian Mafia. He’s since retired, moved to Brazil and tried to leave that life behind him. However, when the men who replace Buscetta have most of his family murdered in attempt to find him, he decides that he has had enough. He leaves Brazil to become an informant for the Italian government, revealing everything he knows in an attempt to finally bring Cosa Nostra crashing down.
While the film has its fair share of traditional mob movie moments, such as numerous violent murders and a lot of men in suits kissing each others’ cheeks, most of the movie unexpectedly takes place either in a prison or in a courtroom.
There are seemingly dozens of scenes of Buscetta testifying to a judge either one-on-one or during a trial, the latter of which often finds him surrounded by the people he’s testifying against. One would think this many scenes of him testifying would get repetitive, but they all work incredibly well. With excellently written and delivered dialogue, each sequence brings its own energy to the movie. Every word matters, which gives these conversations an almost frantic undertone. The stories shared by Buscetta help develop his motivations and his character and explain why exactly Cosa Nostra has become such a societal problem in Italy.
The events of the film are incredibly unpredictable, which in turn makes the film an endlessly thrilling experience. A few courtroom sequences in particular keep the audience nervously shifting on the edge of their seat. Even though the courtroom seems like a safe location, the immense number of gangsters in the room makes it incredibly hostile. While Buscetta is testifying, it feels as if he is only a moment away from taking a bullet to the head; he is in danger everywhere he goes.
Adding to the exciting nature of the film was the performance Favino gave in the lead role.
Favino was on screen in almost every scene of the movie, and he gave 100% effort in every sequence. He was intimidating when he needed to be, but he also brought an immense amount of charisma and genuine emotion to the role. As an actor, he appears just as comfortable in an intense shootout as he is crying alone on a rooftop. He was completely committed to bringing this character to life, and it shows. He embraced every aspect of the character and amplified it, making Buscetta into an individual the audience can never look away from — even if they wanted to.
“The Traitor” is more than your typical mobster movie; it’s an impressively crafted character study of a man who has been pushed to his limits. Favino gives a stellar performance as Buscetta, and the film’s courtroom sequences are some of the most intense I’ve seen in a while. It’s a must-see for fans of gangster movies. I’m typically not part of that fandom, but even I found “The Traitor” to be remarkable.