BFI Film (studio)
02 December 2019 (released)
09 December 2019
This thought-provoking (if somewhat flawed) release was one of the highest-grossing films in 1988 and with its theme of white supremacist ideology (on the rise again in Trumpland), BETRAYED still packs a punch, not least thanks to sterling performances by its stars, Debra Winger and Tom Berenger.
The film starts with a bang (well, a few actually): in Chicago, an open-minded radio host is shot to death in the studios’ car park. His crime? He was Jewish. We then find ourselves in some backwater in the Midwest where attractive but brunette Katie Phillips rolls along seemingly endless cornfields in a tractor. A scarecrow lying in the field prompts her to promptly stop and minutes later dishy looking land-owner and farmer Gary Simmons introduces himself. Simmons, a widower, lives with his two little children and Mum Gladys (Betsy Blair) in the nearby farm – part of a wider community of farmers or, as it soon turns out, narrow-minded rednecks. Later that evening Katie sits in a bar sipping Budweiser (what else) looking at Gary who promptly tries to chat her up and wanting to dance with her (to country music, what else). Katie initially plays hard to get but the oh so charming cowboy has wrapped her round his little finger and before you know it they have a thing going on. Clearly smitten with the feisty lady, he invites her to his home and introduces her to his Mum who casually remarks “It’s just not the same country I grew up in” and we sense that all is not what it seems in this wholesome picture-book community. It takes over 45 minutes before we director Costa-Gavras (or screenwriter Joe Eszterhas, rather) let the cat out of the sack: Katie isn’t a drifter looking for work among the farming community, she is in fact an FBI undercover-agent by the name of Catherine Weaver. Her mission? To infiltrate the very farming community Gary lives at because the FBI suspects the culprits responsible for the assassination of the radio DJ live among the locals.
If she had her senses sharpened as required she would soon realise that there’s another side to Gary Simmons, which is that of a sexist, homophobic and deeply racist yokel who hates rock n roll and all things steering off course from his cosy world ideology. But love makes blind and instead of keeping a healthy distance from him Katie falls head over heels in love with Gary, refusing to believe that such a respectable pillar of society (and a Vietnam War veteran) could do such evil. A terrible error of judgement as it soon turns out, namely when Gary takes her along to a nightly hunting trip in the woods where other chums of his are assembled. The hunting trip doesn’t involve killing deer or other animals but a black man who is blindfolded and handcuffed. He is then given a gun with precisely ten bullets and a minutes time to start running… before he’s mercilessly hunted down by his sadistic killers. When Katie is offered the honours of finishing the badly wounded man off she is too shocked and disgusted to even react and it’s Gary’s psychopathic friend Wes (Ted Levine) who delivers the deadly shot. Of course, three years later Ted Levine would up the ante by playing an even bigger sadist, namely notorious serial killer ‘Buffalo Bill’ in SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. The brutal killing of an innocent black man (“He’s not a human, he’s just a dirty nigger” remarks Gary) is without doubt one of the most unsettling and disturbing scenes in the entire film but perhaps also a necessary one. Finally, Katie begins to wake up. Pretending to visit her ill mother she drives to Chicago where she meets up with the FBI team lead by Mike Carnes (John Heard), a rather shifty individual who turns out to be a former squeeze of Katie. She sure knows how to pick ‘em! Confused over her loyalties and her feelings, she asks Carnes to release her from the assignment but he won’t have any of it and sends her right back into the lion’s den. After the ‘hunting trip’ Katie feels physical repulsion for Gary but has no other option than keeping up her façade, even attending a secret Ku-Klux-style meeting during which she learns of the organisations’ plan to rob a bank in Chicago and purchase serious ammo with the loot. When she asks what the money is for, they inform her of their plans to kill some ‘niggers’ in Harlem, some ‘faggots’ in San Francisco, and plenty of Jews in between because “It’s filthy rich Jews who steal the farmland away”. The plot gets ever more complex with political campaigns thrown into the mix, the aforementioned bank robbery going pear-shaped, Gary learning about Katie’s real identity and a climax that doesn’t really add up…
BETRAYED is presented on Blu-ray with additional Bonus Features incl interviews.