The Traitor: Messing with the Mob
Compelling and truly terrifying fact-based story of Tomaso Buscetta who turned informer on the Sicilian Mafiosi
24 July, 2020 — By Dan Carrier
Pierfrancesco Favino in The Traitor
Directed by Marco Bellocchio
THE “Maxi” trials of members of the Cosa Nostra in Italy in 1986 were sensational: the banging up of hundreds of mobsters, helped by a Sicilian former Mafioso who committed – in the Mob’s eyes – the ultimate sin of betrayal.
The Traitor follows the story of a key informer, Tommaso Buscetta, and takes us through 30 years of his life, from a childhood on the streets of Palermo, where he was born into crime, through to running multi-million pound heroin rackets – and then the decision to turn and its consequences. He comes up against those who had previously been fathers to him. As a factional war develops between groups seeking to gain control of the heroin trade, he sees relatives killed – and the family bonds are made slack enough by the violence to turn supergrass.
The warring factions, led by bosses Toto Riina (Nicola Calì) and Pippo Calo (Fabrizio Ferracane) are studies in the banality of evil.
Buscetta’s motivations and questions of moral judgement, (engagingly portrayed by Pierfrancesco Favino), is at the heart of the story. His relationship with the prosecuting judge, Falcone (Fausto Russo Alesi) provides grand set-piece conversations while the wrath of those he has spurned pours forth.
As well as a compelling story, well told by a wonderful script and performances, director Bellocchio has made a truly ugly topic something rather beautiful. An incidental operatic score provides drama alone, warning what is about to unfold, while the grandstand scenes in court also feel operatic – the judges, public gallery and convicts providing a chorus line for the evidence given by The Traitor. It conjures up a world of violence that is truly terrifying.
At its heart, The Traitor isn’t just a hugely enjoyable piece of modern European history dramatised, it asks questions about morals and ethics, about loyalty, about base human motivations as they work through the deadly sins – these characters are driven by greed, pride, envy, wrath and lust.
There has been a series of films in recent years that study the history of organised crime in Italy. The days of mobster movies being about wise guys in sharp suits, where evil deeds have given a Scorsese sheen, seem horribly out of fashion when a movie like The Traitor comes along.
Gomorrah, the award-winning Matteo Garrone film about gangs in Naples, is an example of the unglamorous nature of the Cosa Nostra. The Traitor sits easily in such exulted company.