“I was and remain a man of honor.”
Tommaso Buscetta (Pierfrancesco Favino) claimed to be an honorable man. But what he meant by that may mean something different than you think. The Traitor is the story of how in the 1980s, he (and some others) began to bring down the Cosa Nostra (aka Sicilian Mafia).
As that time the Cosa Nostra was controlling the world heroin trade. As the film opens, Buscetta is attending a summit of the Palermo and Corleone clans to divide up the business. They establish a tentative peace, which turns out to be short-lived. Buscetta (who is a prison escapee) has set up a life in Brazil with a new wife. He lives well there. But when the gang war reignites, resulting in the death of his two sons of a previous marriage, some want him to return and take revenge. He is reluctant, but soon the Brazilian authorities arrest him, torture him (and his family), and extradite him back to Italy.
He returns to Italy volunteering to talk to Judge Giovanni Falcone, a prosecuting magistrate, about the Cosa Nostra, but not planning to be an informer. But as he and Falcone establish respect and rapport, Buschetta becomes the key evidence leading to hundreds of arrests and a massive trial. Buschetta is villainized in Sicily—even by his old family. But his new family is settled into witness protection in the US.
Early on in his discussion with Falcone, he defines “honorable man”. That is the term that the soldiers in the Cosa Nostra use for themselves. But Buschetta sees it as more than that. For him it harkens back to the values espoused by the Cosa Nostra when he became affiliated. Those values are explained in a story of early on, he was told to kill a particular person. That person saw Buschetta and knew what was to happen, but he grabbed his baby. Buschetta would not kill him with his child nearby. That would be wrong. So he waited while the boy grew.
At two and a half hours, this film takes its time in an attempt to provide an overall look at Buscetti’s life and his decision to inform on those with whom he had served. Yet in covering so much, it makes it hard to explore the more intimate bits of the story, such as the developing relationship between Buschetta and Falcone and how that relationship shaped Buschetta and his opinion of what he was doing.
And most of all, the film needs a bit more attention to the meaning of the honor that Buschetta saw himself as embodying. As a “man of honor” within the Cosa Nostra, his honor was a sort of twisted sense of values. To be sure, the Cosa Nostra took care of their community in a certain sense, but that concern was less than honorable by most standards of morality. But when Bruscetta becomes an informer and serves as a witness against former allies, perhaps he has discovered a new sense of honor. That exploration could have added some heft to a story that wants so say something about truth and honor.
The Traitor is available on VOD and DVD.