Betrayal Movie 1988
In too deep, Katie pleads with her boss and mentor to release her from the assignment. But he refuses, turning the screws on her mixed loyalties. Ultimately she must betray the man she loves or the country she’s sworn to protect.
Costa-Gavras, who also helmed Z and State of Siege, offers one searing visual image after another. But his overall handling of this explosive subject is clumsy and heavy handed.
After a Chicago talk-show host is killed by members of a white supremacist group, FBI agent Catherine Weaver (Debra Winger) goes undercover to infiltrate the rural farming community thought to be harboring them. In the hands of lesser actors, such a scenario would be laughable, but Winger and Tom Berenger, playing the farmers Gary Simmons and Robert Levine, bring the drama to life without ever resorting to easy sensationalism.
Using real names to avoid inflaming controversy, director Costa-Gavras and screenwriter Joe Eszterhas create an indictment of a criminal counterculture corroding America’s heartland. A thriller, romance and social commentary, Betrayed captures the resentment of a rogue underclass, which can even turn people into homicidal maniacs. Yet, in trying to be a big Hollywood entertainment, Betrayed loses its political punch. For example, one of the most shocking scenes – a bloody manhunt led by Weaver’s boyfriend Gary – is rendered almost comic by the fact that the couple fall madly in love during the pursuit.
When a Jewish talk radio shock jock is gunned down in the driveway of his Denver home, the FBI sends undercover agent Cathy Weaver to infiltrate the clandestine group of white supremacists who killed him. Posing as the wholesome Iowa farmer Katie Phillips, Weaver gets close to Gary Simmons (Tom Berenger) and his family before she is rebuffed by her boss.
Director Costa-Gavras, who had previously tackled similar themes in Z, Stage of Siege and Missing, uses the film to explore the subculture of racist paramilitaries corroding American society. Its most memorable moment is the horrifying nighttime hunt sequence, in which a kidnapped black man is chased through the woods by dogs and men with submachine guns. Yet the movie is less convincing when Weaver becomes romantically involved with Gary. It’s hard to believe that such a wholesome family man would be a supporter of mass violence against Americans who threaten his core moral and racial principles.
Director Costa-Gavras has a step-below A-level cast on his hands here but the two leads (Debra Winger and Tom Berenger) deliver remarkably fine performances. This is the kind of film that dares to expose violent racism for what it really is, and it’s a scathing indictment of the cult of hate that motivates these people. The scene where the talk show host is killed – with an ambush that’s reminiscent of the notorious racist manhunts of the Civil Rights era – is a real showstopper.
The plot centers on a female FBI plant whose hunch about the murder of a left-leaning talk radio host leads her to infiltrate a farming community where one of the suspects lives. She gets close to the leader, and her relationship with him becomes a moral minefield. Cathy/Katie buys into his inexplicable naivety and encourages his hatred-fawning call-in guests; she also participates in an ill-fated bank heist. The film’s cynicism and unlikely plot tricks, however, undermine what should have been a taut issue-driven cat-and-mouse thriller.
Director Costa-Gavras is able to pull out some searing visual images (like the spectral white horse that careens after Charles Denner in “Z”) and an intensely unsettling nighttime hunt sequence in this thriller. But he can’t seem to free himself from the suffocating caul of Eszterhas’s script.
The film begins on a chilling note, using real headlines, including the 1984 murder of radio host Alan Berg by a group of white supremacists, to make its point. But it soon falls back into facile cynicism and unlikely plot tricks.
Winger and Berenger, who have both been Oscar nominated for their work, do their best to bring shadings to their characters’ simplistically written arcs. But their performances are ultimately not enough to offset a plot that lurches inexplicably between incompetent suspense and nonsensical zero-chemistry romance. The muddled endings don’t help either. Despite the film’s flaws, it is still a disturbing drama.