From the Italian director Marco Bellochio (Vincere), “The Traitor” is a true crime story on the life of Tommaso Buscetta, a mafia boss who was ridiculed for his collaboration with the police in the mid-1980s.
Although conventionally handled, the film contains gripping suspense along with some surrealistic sequences. The film also delivers an excellent performance by Pierfrancesco Favino.
Buscetta (Favino) is a big-shouldered boss in the heroin business. Though he is intimidating, Buscetta is a teddy bear around his family. After a big victory party celebrating family dominance, Buscetta becomes disillusioned by his position, especially watching his wayward son become an addict.
He vows to exile himself in Brazil. Then one by one with disturbing regularity, Buscetta’s relatives are killed. The boss decides to talk and is reviled by his associates.
A court procedural follows as the leader is cross examined by some of his former allies who now feel he is less than dirt. The courtroom scenes are a bit laborious, with each examiner pausing and posing repeated questions. A few shots in the sequences appear identical.
That being said, the film shines in its eccentric scenarios. In one scene, Buscetta is in bed. Gradually two people enter a room carrying huge wreaths of flowers and his wife and mother appear dressed in black kissing him. A man is sealing him inside his coffin bed, welding it shut.
Impactful too is the sense of apprehension of the boss’ numbered days. He goes to the store to purchase a machine gun, then going out to dinner he sees a suspicious cafe singer dressed as Santa, but even the waiter is suspect.
A few scenes later, Buscetta cannot sleep and sits under a stark, sharp edged moon with his gun.
The violence though bloody is handled naturally with some sadness and without fanfare. The percussions are done swiftly and abruptly vanishing in an instant, illustrating life’s capricious circumstance. Above all, one feels Buscetta’s aural Sword of Damocles.
Ultimately despite its intermittently slow pace, “The Traitor” emerges as an eerie character study of a real life mafia don.
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