In 1980, the Sicilian Mafia gathered for a celebration to emphasise how united they were, and ready for the challenges of a new decade where their drug dealings had become to most widespread on the planet. But in Brazil, Tommaso Buscetta (Pierfrancesco Favino), one of the leaders of the operation in that part of the world, is having reservations, especially when he sees his son stoned on heroin on the beach, which is beginning to bring home to him what kind of impact he is having on society. He joins in with the shouts of unity as the fireworks are set off, but his heart is not in it and soon he knows he was correct to not feel the camaraderie as the assassinations begin in earnest...
Crime in Italy had been a theme of that country's cinema for decades, but perhaps reached its apex in the nineteen-seventies where the gangster thrillers proliferated across their screens, travelling abroad to garner a following across the globe thanks to their willingness to go to extremes, be they extremes of violence or of action. But come the twenty-first century, the subject increasingly became wrapped up with the reality of that crime, as if the genre had developed a conscience about glamorising the matters it had previously found entertainment in, and many true life accounts both on television and in the theatres were produced, as the law began to properly address the reality.
The story we were offered here was also true, and about the big drive of the eighties into the nineties to bring the Mafia to book, which was mired in the violence that had previously put off so many witnesses coming forward. And even the law itself from tackling it, thanks to bribery and fear of reprisals sabotaging the potential for gangs like the Sicilian clan meeting justice, so Buscetta was a very important piece of that attack on them. Although the film does not let him off the hook for his own crimes, everyone loves a redemption tale, and the fact that he was able to set aside whatever vestiges of loyalty he had for his former colleagues because he was sick of it all was admirable.
At least, that's the way it was presented here, though the standing and power he gained from being the whistleblower were not entirely ignored, and there is an indication he was getting off on his newfound ability to tell the Mob where to go with extensive police protection to back him up. Therefore this was a more layered portrayal than a more celebratory version of the trials that resulted, and much of that was down to the central performance of Favino, who not only commanded the screen with a carefully delivered style and depth, but gave us a reason to be invested in characters who many would ordinarily prefer to turn a blind eye to. The scene where a key player in the trials is assassinated was a case in point, utterly callous yet petty vengeance.
We see the Mafia bosses celebrating that they have murdered this man and his wife, utterly oblivious to the damage they have done, whether through the hundreds of killings they have arranged or the countless deaths and ruined lives of the drugs trade: when Buscetta repeats the word "hypocrite" over and over when faced with an old ally/now enemy in court, it's disturbing that the boss and his ilk cannot see why he would accuse them so. What made this more remarkable was that it was the fiftieth film (and not the last) of Marco Bellocchio, the veteran director of the Italian New Wave who was still plugging away at his profession and crafting a pacey, well cultivated real life thriller that did not feel as long as its two and a half hour running time may suggest, indeed it raced by as the facts were put across with clarity and the large cast were not lost sight of in the conspiracies. We had seen a lot of these, which diluted it somewhat, but it was among the better examples: the temptation might have been to emulate Brian De Palma's Scarface, yet they wisely went their own way instead. Music by Nicola Piovani.