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Review: The Traitor (2020)

The Traitor (2020)

Directed by: Marco Bellocchio

Premise: Based on true events. In the 1980s, gangster Tommaso Buscetta (Pierfrancesco Favino) turns against the mafia and becomes an informant for Italian law enforcement. His testimony results in arrests and major criminal trials.

What Works: The Traitor is a mix of a courtroom drama and a gangster movie. The two types of stories fit together naturally and they allow the filmmakers to expand the storytelling possibilities. Gangster films like Goodfellas and Scarface are about the crimes and typically conclude with the criminal either killed or repenting. Courtroom dramas are about what happens after the crime; if the crime breaks the social contract, the trial is supposed to patch it up. The Traitor is about how gangster Tommaso Buscetta turned on his criminal colleagues to be a witness for the prosecution. The film has an impressive scope as it deals with multiple criminal trials and the way Buscetta dealt with the consequences of his choices. Loyalty and honor are common themes throughout the gangster genre and The Traitor has an interesting take. Buscetta turned on those he had sworn allegiance to and in many gangster films, even those that condemn criminality, the snitch is usually regarded as a dishonorable creep. In The Traitor, the snitch is the one with integrity. Buscetta explains that he joined the mafia with the understanding that there were limits and protocols for violence. As Buscetta sees it, those norms were discarded in the name of greed and so it was the mafia that betrayed him rather than the other way around. That complicated sense of duty and integrity gives The Traitor some depth and complexity that makes it unique among crime and punishment movies.

What Doesn’t: The opening of The Traitor moves quickly and the narrative and the movements of the characters are a little hard to follow especially for viewers who are not familiar with the historical circumstances of the case. After about the first thirty minutes the film settles into a more accessible rhythm and the story proceeds in a way that makes sense. However, the speed of the film’s opening comes with a significant loss. We understand why Buscetta turned against the mafia—the people who Buscetta had sworn allegiance to turned around and killed members of his family—but this is only conveyed factually instead of emotionally. It must have been traumatic for Buscetta to violate his oath but that internal conflict is not evident in the movie.  

DVD extras: Trailer.

Bottom Line: The Traitor is an impressive and ambitious gangster picture. The movie contains a bit more substance than the average gangster film and it offers a thoughtful and fresh take on this genre.

Episode: #802 (May 31, 2020)