Directed by Marco Bellocchio. In Italian, Sicilian, English, and Portuguese, with English subtitles. Rated 14A
For anyone who wants The Irishman to just keep going comes The Traitor, a satisfying saga from the great Italian filmmaker Marco Bellocchio, responsible for such ’60s classics as Fists in the Pocket and China Is Near.
Now over 80, the veteran director has tackled terrorism and Italy’s fascist past. Here, he unfurls a massive, sometimes exhausting, 150-minute tale of the Sicilian Mafia. A few baptisms, some weddings, and a whole lot of funerals mark the rise and fall of the modern mob, centring on the first capo dei capi to turn informant, resulting in jail sentences for hundreds of top bosses.
On the face of it, Bellocchio has a good eye for the details of Cosa Nostra thug life, depicting the gold chandeliers and other Trumpian touches in the various mansions cigar-chomping Mafiosi built and lost between 1980 and 2000, when the story begins and ends—with plenty of flashes forward and back in between.
First and foremost, the film benefits from the riveting performance of Pierfrancesco Favino, familiar from such English-language efforts as Rush and World War Z. He plays the real-life Tommaso Buscetta, our titular snitch. Favino isn’t quite as young or old as Buscetta is supposed to be at various stages, but he does capture his dignity as well as his vanity. (He touches up his grey hair even in prison.) And the actor builds a compelling slow burn as the ex-mobster gets fed up with internecine attacks on his own clan, eventually delivering hard evidence in several “maxi trials” that constitute the film’s dramatic high points, even allowing for a body count that would make Martin Scorsese blush.
As in The Irishman, women are secondary participants at best, despite the strong presence of Maria Fernanda Cândido as our antihero’s Brazilian wife. The movie fudges some facts, such as moving their South American villa from São Paulo to Rio de Janeiro—because, well, Rio! It’s also slightly padded out with dream sequences and an on-the-nose visit with a zoo’s caged tiger, although this pays off later, in the courtroom, when mobsters face off like gladiators, from behind bars in the back and bulletproof glass cubicles up front.
The Sicilian insults are worth the price of admission, with the most memorable zinger being “If I hated you, I’d be doing you a favour.” The story drags a little in its U.S.–based coda, but connects some still-relevant dots between crime, law enforcement, and politics. It has other useful insights, too, such as: don’t have phone sex when you know your lines are tapped.