(director/writer: Marco Bellocchio; screenwriters: Ludovica Rampoldi, Valia Santella, Francesco Piccolo; cinematographer: Vladan Radovich; editor: Francesca Calvelli; music: Nicola Piovani; cast: Pierfrancesco Favino (Tommaso Buscetta), Maria Fernandez Candido (Maria Cristina de Almeida Guimarães), Farizio Ferracane (Pippo Calò), Luigi Lo Cascio (Totuccio Contorno), Nicola Cali (Totò Riina), Giovanni Calcagno (Tano Badalamenti), Fausto Russo Alesi (Giovanni Falcone), Bruno Cariello (Alfonso Giordano); Runtime: 145; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Beppe Caschetto, Michael Weber, Viola Fugen, Simone Gattoni Caio Gullane, Fabiano Gullane, Alexandra Henochsberg; Sony Picture Classics; 2019-Italy/France/Germany/Brazil-in Italian, Portuguese with English subtitles)

“A fact-based gangster film about the man who took down the Costra Nostra.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The master 80-year-old Italian auteur Marco Bellocchio (“Fists in the Pocket”/”Devil in the Flesh “) in a straightforward political drama recreates the 1986 to 1992 Mafia Maxi trials when Tommaso Buscetta (Pierfrancesco Favino), the highest-ranking Mafia don to sing to the authorities, turned traitor and as a result hundreds of Sicilian mobsters were convicted. It’s a fact-based gangster film about the man who took down the Costra Nostra. Writers Ludovica Rampoldi, Valia Santella and Francesco Piccolo set it mostly in the 1980s and split time following the intimidating snitch between Italy and Rio de Janeiro. The lengthiest scenes are reserved for the courtroom.

The filmmaker tells it as Tommaso’s story and the man despised by both the cops and the Mob is revealed through following his early beginnings as a teenager swearing an oath to the Mafia in Palermo to the time he was an old man in court.

The story opens at a mafia clan meeting in 1980 convened to work out how to carve up Italy’s heroin market between two Sicilian rivals as peacefully as possible. The old mafia Sicilian families in Palermo is where Tommaso operates and the Corleone family is the gang where the ruthless new breed of mafia are led by Toto Riina (Nicola Cali). Tommaso moves with his family to Rio de Janeiro to stay out of the way and leaves two of his eight children behind in the care of the trusted Pippo Calo’ (Fabrizio Ferracane). The boys are in their twenties. Soon news reaches him that they are missing.

A full scale gang war breaks out, with 150 lives lost. Meanwhile Tommaso and his Brazilian third wife (Maria Fernandez Candido) live a fast life in Rio, until the army arrests him in his mansion.

Though tortured by the police Tommaso is unwilling to squeal. But, in the film’s scariest scene, Tommaso watches in a helicopter his wife being dangled over the ocean from a second chopper. The next scene has him extradited to Italy in 1984 and we learn he has agreed to talk to the judges and as a result is handled with kid gloves. When Tommaso informs on mafia kingpins such as Toto Riina,  it is decided they will all stand trial together in a “maxi trial.” The calm Tommaso seems rattled only by his young son’s addiction to heroin.

The courtroom scenes have a circus-like atmosphere, as the bosses are displayed in heavily barred cells around the room while witnesses stand behind bullet-proof glass. When Tommaso testifies, the mafia in the courtroom scream out insults at him.

Another scene depicts the trial judge, Giovanni Falcone (Fausto Russo Alesi), killed in a car bomb. That awful incident is followed by the ugly mafia soldiers celebrating the judge’s death.

In the end the filmmaker has given us a carefully observed report on how the trial went and suggests the snitch probably acted because he knew his days were numbered and wanted to establish for the record that he was a big deal in the operation who stood for the old guard in the mafia, those who respected others, and wouldn’t do the brutal crimes the new mafia types are doing.

Though the film drags at times, it works by showing us Mafia courtroom scenes that reach for sublime levels even if not for spectacular ones. Also because of the intriguing performance of Favino, who gives the film life and makes it real by capturing both the bravado and vulnerability of his character.