Inspired by one of the most infamous Mafia-related trials in Italian history, Marco Bellocchio’s The Traitor has a grandeur to it from the off. While most films from Italy dealing with the Cosa Nostra are often confined to their native Sicily, this sweeping story has scope and scale. Telling of Tommaso Buscetta, the ultimate informer who turned on his deadly employers, Bellocchio blends spectacle and shock into an absorbing, continent-hopping crime saga.
Spanning from the early 1970s to the late 1990s, at its heart is the anti-mafia Maxi trial of 1986, which saw numerous Sicilian mobsters toppled by a network of informers, led by Buscetta. Played with real charisma by Pierfrancesco Favino, Buscetta is hardly running into the arms of the authorities to give state evidence at the outset. But a sojourn in Brazil with his family, where he ran Latin operations, leaves him horribly exposed.
Already distraught after a rival mobster, Totò Riina (Calì Nicola), wipes out many of his associates and loved-ones, Buscetta also must face the hardline authorities in Rio. This includes the horrifying moment where he’s forced to watch as his wife Cristina (Maria Fernanda Cândido) is dangled from a helicopter, a life-or-death threat to get him to talk. After a haunted, dream-like plane-ride home to Italy, during extradition, he’s ready to do so.
The Maxi trial, of course, takes centre stage, with the courtroom turned into something akin to a circus. But this smart jigsaw-like script doesn’t leave it there, with Buscetta’s time under Witness Protection in America also considered. You can’t help but think of Henry Hill in Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas – a clear influence here – living life “like a schnook” in these scenes, with Buscetta nervy and paranoid.
Bellocchio has a taste for action, none more so than the jaw-dropping moment when a car bomb goes off and the camera remains inside the somersaulting vehicle as the explosion sends it spinning. But there’s more to The Traitor than bloodshed; never gratuitous or glamorising, the film examines it subject with a dispassionate and critical eye. Buscetta is never lionised, nor is he celebrated; rather, he’s put under a sharply-focused microscope.
The Traitor is available in cinemas and to stream from 17 July. For more details, click here.