Corruption and exposure is depicted in “The Traitor,” which was showcased at the 2019 New York Film Festival and is now in a well-deserved commercial release.

The excellent, taut crime drama is a return to the screen by iconic Italian director Marco Bellocchio, now 80, who shows that he retains the ability to create a powerful and engrossing film, just as he has been doing throughout the years after his sensational early films such as “Fists in the Pocket” (1965), “China is Near” (1967) and “In the Name of the Father” (1972).

“The Traitor” is based on real-life case of Tommaso Buscetta, who was a bigwig in the Italian Mafia in Sicily, but in the 1980s turned against the Mafia to become an informer for the authorities. Bellocchio wrote the screenplay with Valia Santella, Ludovica Rampoldi, Francesco Piccolo and Francesco La Licata.

Bellocchio has cast Pierfrancesco Favino in the juicy role in this realistic drama, and Favino delivers impressively in communicating the resolve it took for Buscetta, nicknamed Masino, to defy the Mafia and turn into a prosecution witness.

Masino has a personal motive—vengeance. Two of his sons have been killed by one Mafia faction. Extradited to Italy after living in Brazil, Masino has a decision to make. Fausto Russo Alesi plays prosecutor Giovanni Falcone, who faces his own danger in trying to break up the powers that be in the Sicilian crime world.

Bellocchio skillfully and colorfully depicts the 1986 trial in which defendants are held in courtroom cages. They are depicted as rebelliously defiant in the face of authority. They are not gangsters ready to go down quietly.

Masino is not romanticized. While Favino makes him human rather than just a symbol, he is also shown as self-serving in his ultimate betrayal of his bosses despite his attempt to cloak his behavior as adhering to old Mafia values.

It is a pleasure to see Bellocchio in top form with this addition to films that expose the power that the Sicilian Mafia as wielded over life in that part of Italy. A Sony Pictures Classics release. Reviewed January 31, 2020.

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