Review by Sean Boelman
Co-written and directed by acclaimed Italian director Marco Bellocchio, The Traitor is a new epic crime saga in the tradition of The Godfather. However, despite a thoroughly entertaining and juicy script inspired by true events, uneven (and often mediocre) execution causes this film to be frustrating more often than not.
The movie tells the story of Tommaso Buscetta, the first Sicilian mafia informant in the 1980’s, whose testimony helped bring down the Cosa Nostra. The film traces Buscetta’s journey from trusted soldier in the family to widely loathed traitor, starting with his exile in Brazil through his groundbreaking court appearances. The result is a sprawling saga reminiscent of the great gangster and mafioso pictures of times past.
Still, because of the lack of restraint executed by Bellocchio, the movie fails to be much more than a diverting flick. The first hour or so of the film is particularly messy, featuring some inexplicable directorial choices from Bellocchio to go along with the chaotic narrative. Eventually the movie does find its narrative and stylistic rhythm once it gets to the meat of the story, but it takes quite a while to get there.
The film begins in a stylish manner, introducing the viewer to the large cast of characters in a large “family” photo, the flashes of the camera illuminating the various players that will come to have a small or large part in this tale. This is only the start of the cool but gimmicky and unnecessary flourishes like a ticking clock presented on screen (what it is counting is never made clear) and excessive use of on-screen text.
Even beyond these gimmicks, though, is a slew of stylistic issues that lend no sense of visual coherence to the movie. The cinematography, while sometimes creative, more often has the quality of a TV show than that of a grand crime epic. The score is also entirely overbearing and frequently feels out-of-place compared to the darkness of the events being depicted.
Admittedly, the film can’t be faulted for a lack of ambition, but many of the movie’s ambitious swings end up being misses. As a result, the film ends up feeling like a waste of a fascinating true story. Buscetta is an undeniably fascinating and mysterious character, and his story is often riveting, hence why it deserves a much better treatment than the one Bellocchio gave it.
Inarguably the biggest highlight of the movie’s execution is Pierfrancesco Favino’s performance as Buscetta. The sole provider of subtlety and nuance in an ensemble that is otherwise over-the-top, Favino is the only person keeping this script from going off the rails and veering into cheesy and melodramatic territory
Apart from a few first act troubles, the script of The Traitor is very good (sometimes even excellent). That said, director Marco Bellocchio executes a bit too much creativity at times, allowing the film to spiral out of control to the point of no return.
The Traitor is now playing in theaters.