The Traitor review – an unconventional mafia tale that’s a brutal knockout Our Godfather



Marco Bellocchio’s The Traitor (Il traditore) is his latest slice of unconformist Italian cinema whose mafia tale is a brutal knockout. It has such a rare script that goes against everything we know about conventional mob-genre film rules. It’s a cinematic miracle.

The knock on Marco Bellocchio’s Il traditore since premiering in 2019 at Cannes is the disorganized way the script handles the timeline of the real-life events, and that it somehow lacks a certain level of concentration to be truly great. After watching this week, I thought about those points, and kept thinking of famed American directors who refuse to follow conventional narratives; for instance, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, and Oliver Stone never met a script or true events they didn’t like to juggle or reinvent. After all, why should all films follow the same step-by-step playbook? The Traitor is now playing in US theatres, and if I didn’t watch a 2019 documentary, Our Godfather, on Netflix last year, based on the subject of this film, I’m not sure I would have believed it. It’s unlike any gangster picture I’ve ever seen.

Bellocchio’s latest slice of unconformist Italian cinema is a brutally unconventional mafia tale that is powered by a commanding performance by Pierfrancesco Favino (Suburra), who plays Tommaso Bruscetta, focusing on a real-life figure’s struggle with loyalty or lack thereof. He became the first member within the ranks of the Cosa Nostra and Sicilian Mafia Boss who was given the colloquialism of “pentito”,term used to describe anyone in an Italian criminal organization who cooperates with the public prosecutors.

The Traitor was co-written by Bellocchio and a host of others, which would suggest a couple of rewrites, and would explain the way it drops the viewer in the middle of the mafia war happening and members of Buscetta’s family and business associates being murdered in cold blood as a way to draw him out of hiding. While I would almost recommend watching the companion documentary (before or after, it doesn’t matter) to draw more clarity of the film that will be unknown in younger Generation X and lower, the film is well written enough to enjoy without the backstory. Too many films today will spoon-feed their audience and will think the viewer will not have the required smarts to enjoy it on its own merits. The Traitor won’t talk down to them and is such a rare work that it goes against everything we know about conventional mob genre rules. It’s a cinematic miracle.

The filmmaking team behind Il traditore are more interested in why Bruscetti turned on his working family, and the emotional toll it took on him to go back and forth to various courtroom scenes in Italy. Bellocchio fills his camera’s frame with the imposing Favino, who was so good in one of my favorite films of the decade, Suburra, and brings to life a real anti-hero that doesn’t have the last name Soprano, Mackey, or White. It’s a three-dimensional performance, likable one minute, sad the next, but you never forget he isn’t quite the man who found the error of his ways. He, after all, has been convicted of drug charges and admitted carrying out murders, decided the mafia changed the rules and lost its way by killing members of their own working family; along with turning to heroin and cocaine trade — the film takes the stand that the man who foundmoral compass has its price. Fabrizio Ferracane is also very good here as a squirmy, cold mob boss.

Everything about this extravagant mob tale, as Gene Siskel would say, takes you to another time and place, and that’s something only the best films do. You are treated to wonderful, interesting cinematography, the authentic look and feel of the streets of Sicily, and has its ’80s costume design down pat. It may seem like no big deal to some, but any misstep takes you out of the experience. The scenes of members of his family and associates being gunned down are brutal and most of the violence that is used as entertainment points is stripped of gratuitousness, yet remains remarkably cinematic. When the film turns into a courtroom drama, many will think it over-the-top, yet, most of it happened in that manner, which makes it absorbing since it has never been done before or at the very least in this much detail.

For conventional film fans of the genre, The Traitor may have benefited from having the story play out in conversation device before and after the trial between Italian judge and prosecuting magistrate Giovanni Falcone (an effective Fausto Russo Alesi) and Bruscetti. That may be true, but the unstructured nature is what makes the film so endlessly fascinating and different. The Traitor is the first great film of 2020. Go see it.

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M.N. Miller

M.N. Miller has been a film and television writer for Ready Steady Cut since August of 2018 and is patiently waiting for the next Pearl Jam album to come out.

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