The Starkness of BETRAYED is Still Sadly Relevant

by Frank Calvillo

Betrayed opens with a series of scenes involving a controversial Jewish radio host who has made a name for himself as a prominent figure on Chicago’s airwaves. While traveling to his car in the parking garage shortly after completing a show, he is violently gunned down by a number of men who then proceed to spray paint anti-semitic remarks on his dead body. It is an incredibly stark opening that not only sets the intense tone of the next two hours, but more than hits home decades after the film was made.

In Betrayed, Debra Winger plays Cathy Phillips, a Chicago FBI agent posing as a woman named Katie and living in the midwest. Katie’s job is to win the love and trust of Gary (Tom Berenger), a widowed farmer with two kids who is also one of the key figures in a white supremacist group whom Cathy and her superiors have been watching. Although capturing Gary’s heart has proven easy, Cathy finds herself unable to cope with her actual feelings towards him as she tries to keep her head above water amid suspicious group members and the scariness of the world in which she now finds herself.

For those who venture into Betrayed with no knowledge of the film’s plot or premise, the experience is a gripping suspense ride from start to finish. The film benefits from such a taut, tight script that works on all levels, from characters to drama to suspense. It is one of those rare screenplays which paints interesting multi-dimensional characters and takes them, and the audience, on a truly involving ride. The script’s power is matched by the strong directorial hand of Costa-Gavras, who knows exactly how to navigate the Joe Ezterhas-penned script through the camera lens in a way which proves the epitome of the term cinematic. The two would later team up on the also-gripping war crimes/courtroom Jessica Lange-starrer Music Box, but Betrayed proves a collaboration truly made in movie heaven.

There’s no pretending that Betrayed isn’t a difficult to watch at times. The harrowing moments and the different ideologies behind them are never subtle, nor should they be, given the importance they serve in showing just how deep into it Cathy really is. The nighttime hunting scene in which Gary, Cathy, and some fellow group members let loose a kidnapped black youth into the woods as they chase after him with shotguns is made all the more horrific when a member says to Cathy, “Come on, lighten up,” once the exclusion has concluded. Just as shocking is the backwoods “school” the members send their children to, which includes a gun range featuring ethnic cardboard targets.

For me, Gary remains the one aspect of the film which is the hardest to watch in the way he is shown as a normal guy with such a hateful ideology. As chilling as it is to watch him, it’s also incredibly interesting to see how easy it is for him to lie about certain facts Cathy knows to be true. In Gary, there is a wonderful dichotomy of a loving family man and an individual filled with hate and rage, whose particular ideals, such as not wanting Nazi paraphernalia around the group because that isn’t what he’s about, are all rolled into one intriguing and mysterious character.

The true question the film asks is: Who is really the betrayed of the title? On the one hand, the web of lies and false trust she has coaxed Gary into can’t help but paint him as somewhat of a victim, regardless of what his actions and beliefs otherwise suggest. Cathy makes him believe that he has found true love again and then shatters his world when it is all revealed to have been a giant lie. However Cathy herself has also been betrayed by the agency she works for and the superiors she trusted to keep her safe. In the line of duty, Cathy has done anything and everything for the good of the agency’s cause before virtually being hung out to dry by them. In this light, the pair share a bond as individuals belonging to two very strong and distinct worlds who have found themselves with an undeniable love, which proves to be a dangerous casualty for the two of them.

Its difficult to express the complexity that exists in the roles of both main characters. Betrayed asks both Cathy and Gary to exhibit multiple ideologies as well as conflicting emotions. Cathy deserves an actress of Winger’s proven ability to bring her to life. The actress’s mix of strength and vulnerability served her well enough throughout her career, and for many who weren’t around for the Winger era of the ’80s, Betrayed is more than a fine example of what a truly skilled actress can accomplish. Not to be overshadowed by his co-star, Berenger gives what is truly his finest film role to date. The actor recognizes Gary as someone who doesn’t overtly wear his heart on his sleeve and thus makes him a highly contained individual, creating a mystery within himself that keeps the audience captivated. The pair are helped along the way by the likes of John Heard and John Mahoney, doing great work as an FBI boss and a group member, respectively.

It’s interesting to think where Betrayed would stand today. With news of recent heartbreaking events, the film seems to be as relevant as ever. From the film’s horrifying opening to a Donald Trump-like political hopeful with a slogan which proclaims “Return America to Real Americans,” the film looks as if it could have been ripped from today’s headlines. However, scenes such as hearing Gary’s daughter innocently say the “N” word still prove incredibly shocking even by 21st century standards. There’s nothing but sadness to be had at watching such a scene for the simple reason that she’s too young to know the power of what she’s saying and how it can so easily shape the future.

Betrayed is now available on Blu-Ray from Olive Films.

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