Movie Review: The Italian mafia goes on trial, thanks to “The Traitor (Il traditore)”

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The Italian mob thriller “The Traitor (Il traditore)” is more time than most of us would ever care to spend in an Italian courtroom.

It’s not all adversarial court testimony, bickering mafiosi waving their hands and insulting each other, sometimes face to face. And not all those scenes are limp and dramatically flat. The third act of this very long film has some genuinely shocking violence and a paranoid grace note or two.

But the movie is like waiting for an elderly relative to get to the point of a very long anecdote they’ve elected to recount. It starts well enough, but drones on and on and on before it we get a payoff.

“Basta” the Italians would yell at such a time-suck. “Enough.” Get to the damned point.

Pierfrancesco Favino of “World War Z,” “Angels and Demons” and other Hollywood films stars as Tommaso Buscetta, a smooth mob leader whom we meet at a big mob party in 1980.

“Masino” realizes that the game is up. He’s been in and out of prison, made the move from cigarette smuggling to drugs and got rich, got a third wife and is ready for a new life in Brazil. He figures he can bow out and the family he leaves behind in Sicily and the rest of Italy will be fine. He has two adult sons, among others, still “connected.”

“You can’t take money to the grave with you,” he growls (in Italian, with English subtitles).

He’s barely gotten off the plane with the mayhem starts. Co-writer/director Marco Bellocchio, for reasons never explained, ticks off numbers counting up as the hits begin.

Is he keeping a count of kills? Or the seconds it takes for these to be carried out?

A first assassination leads to a funeral, a woman biting the ear and drawing blood from the wife of a man she holds responsible. There’s a priest, chased down by mobsters dressed as monks, a hit in a mirror warehouse (clever…ish), a 20 year old who has vowed revenge, but is caught and has his trigger-hand lopped off.

And even as Masino, the “boss of two worlds,” mulls over what actions to take, with “all the heroin going through Palermo,” it’s obvious that this is beyond his grasp. That’s when the Brazilian police seize him, ransack his house and torture him for information about where all that money is hidden.

The bulk of “The Traitor” is about his slow-turn from “man of honor” who is “not an informer,” to a man who might be willing to talk to crusading/prosecuting judge Giovanni Falcone (Fausto Russo Alesi).

He reminisces to the judge — “In those days, La Cosa Nostra had rules.”

The judge isn’t buying his rose-colored glasses, his spin or his BS about “code” and what not. Masino and a fellow capo (Luigi Lo Cascio)  start to sing. Yeah, they’re both gambling with their lives with this testimony, but Falcone is depicted as fatalistic — “Death is always with us.”

“I want to die on my bed,” Masino sighs. “That would be a victory.”

“The Traitor” has many unfamiliar faces and less familiar (outside of Italy) names peppering its cast that make it a bit hard to follow for non-Italians. Bellocchio aims to present atmosphere, the vibe of the times, where every mob death of a “rat” is celebrated in Palermo, where every judge is hated and must travel with bodyguards.

The courtroom scenes are chaotic, fractious and go on entirely too long. The “men of honor” face off against each other, witness vs. witness, in front of a line of judges at the “Maxi Trial” of the many mobsters Bruscetta fingered with his testimony.

There’s a cage filled with mafiosi, faking seizures, stripping to fake madness, screaming at the judges and at the witnesses, who sit in a bullet proof cubicle.

It was a trial of great consequence, not merely for those accused, but for the star witnesses who were spirited away to the U.S. witness protection program afterwards.

There have been other movies touching on these trials, these mobsters and Falcone. Solid, if not-that-compelling performances and the moments of high drama or shocking violence that veteran director Bellucchio — his credits extend back to the ’60s — serve up don’t compensate for all the filler he fleshes this flaccid film out with.

“The Traitor” is important Italian Cosa Nostra history rendered in boring, leisurely strokes.

2stars1

MPAA Rating: R for violence, sexual content, language and brief graphic nudity

Cast: Pierfrancesco Favino, Luigi Lo Cascio, Fausto, Russo Alesi, Maria Fernanda Cândido, Fabrizio Ferracane  and Nicola Cali.

Credits: Directed by Marco Bellocchio , script by Marco Bellocchio, Valia Santella, Ludovico Rampoldi, Francesco Picollo and Francesco La Licata.  A Sony Classics release.

Running time: 2:28

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