Director Marco Bellocchio's drama doesn't romanticize the Mafia but shows the difficulties of leaving it behind


“Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in!”

Those words, emphatically spoken by Al Pacino, may be the only thing most folks remember from “The Godfather, Part III.” And they echo a theme that runs through many Mafia films: You can’t escape your sins.

Apparently no one showed the movie to Tommaso Buscetta (a fierce Pierfrancesco Favino). A soldier in the Sicilian Cosa Nostra in the early '80s, Buscetta decided to leave the old country behind and start a new enterprise and life in Brazil.

That wrong move kicks off “The Traitor,” director Marco Bellochio’s depiction of Buscetta’s subsequent life, which didn’t go according to plan. After much blood-spilling — this is a mob movie, after all — Buscetta ends up back in Italy, where he becomes the first insider to testify against the Cosa Nostra.

More blood is spilled even as Buscetta’s family — or what’s left of it — is spirited off to the U.S. and hidden in the witness protection program. But what will likely be eye-opening to American audiences are the circus-like theatrics of an Italian courtroom.

Accused gangsters are held in cages at the back of the courtroom, where they hurl insults at witnesses and harass the judges by asking for ridiculous favors, and yelling seems to be the favored means of communication by all sides.

It’s a ludicrous madhouse as Buscetta testifies against a horde of former associates who end up in jail. But the blood keeps flowing, so Buscetta keeps coming back to testify. Baring his misdeeds before the world becomes his life, his penance.

“The Traitor” doesn’t try to make a hero out of Buscetta and it doesn’t romanticize the Mafia. It observes the awfulness and ongoing futility of a criminal culture. Again, you can’t escape your sins.

'The Traitor'


Rated R for violence, sexual content, language and brief graphic nudity

Running time: 145 minutes

Tom Long is a longtime contributor to The Detroit News. 

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