1988's Betrayed is another movie that I never got around to seeing upon its original release, and managed to hear very little about so that going into this new Blu-Ray disc I found that it was full of surprises. A prologue shows a radio talk show host in Chicago being shot to death by a car full of disguised attackers, then the movie seemingly takes on an entirely different storyline as the scene switches to a farm in the mid-west. We meet Katie Philips (Debra Winger), who is in the area temporarily to help out during harvest season at a farm owned by Gary Simmons (Tom Berenger). At a local bar he asks her to dance and a connection soon forms- she frequently comes by his home for dinner with his two children and his mother (Betsy Blair)- his wife had died a few years ago and he's cautiously looking to fill in that part of his life again. It feels like we're watching a nice American love story until Katie takes a trip to Chicago, enters a building and we find out her name is really Cathy Weaver- an undercover agent for the Department of Justice. They've been investigating the shooting seen at the movie's beginning and a few other incidents, and believe Gary has a connection to them. Cathy tells her fellow agents that so far she has seen absolutely nothing that would make him a suspect- in fact, he seems like a perfectly decent human being. The others still aren't convinced, and mention that Gary's wife had actually left him before she died, and her cause of death was a gruesome car accident that looked like it had been planned.
She returns to the farm and the relationship resumes, with her being the first person Gary has sex with since his wife had died. She becomes like a second mother to his children and they seem to be falling in love- so far so good, until Gary asks her to go hunting with him and his true colors finally come out. He tells her that this is something he loves to do and if she's going to be part of his life, he wants her to join him in it. It turns out the "hunt" is at night, and the target is a black man grabbed by one of Gary's friends. They give him a head start running into the woods, then he is chased after and eventually killed. Cathy is stunned by all of this, expressing her disgust and quickly leaving the area again returning to the other agents. She wants out of the assignment, but is told that the murder she's witnessed would not be enough to put them away for very long- they know something much bigger is being worked on and she has to lead them to that. Agent Michael Carnes (John Heard), who had a prior relationship with her, even teases her about that fact that she had sex with Gary. Reluctantly she finally goes back and pretends to forgive Gary, even letting him say "I love you" and moving in with him and his family. She soon finds out even more about the real Gary, including some terrorist acts he and his friends have planned and is forced to not only show approval of them but even participate. She also becomes attached to Gary's children and finds that they have been indoctrinated into their dad's hateful ways of thinking, with his young daughter innocently spouting racial epithets as she's being put to bed in one scene.
Thankfully this movie was not based directly on any true story- it was written by Joe Ezterhas, author of Basic Instinct which was more of a comedy than thriller, and Showgirls which essentially killed his career. Betrayed works quite well however and shows that he at least had some talent. Watching the movie I was able to suspend disbelief enough to allow myself to be captured by the tension of Cathy carrying out her charade, wondering just how it was all going to end- films which play out like that are always among the most enjoyable to me. While there are a few improbabilities and questions looking back at it, mainly that the motives of the more destructive acts planned by Gary and his comrades aren't clearly explained as well as believable reasons for Cathy first expressing disgust and then approval of Gary's actions in order for him to trust her, overall it's a very solid thriller.
Having been made in 1988, I of course had to laugh a bit at the changes in technology that would have made this movie different if made today- mainly the absence of cell phones, internet searches and email which would have made it easier for Cathy to communicate with her support team (and not have to drive out to a pay phone to call them) but also easier for her cover to be blown. That's why it was surprising and a little funny from a datedness perspective when Gary shows his Amiga computer and the message boards (used by a relative few computer users back then) where he and his group share their plans- of course every character appears on the monitor one-by-one accompanied by a beep for each as was typical of computers in movies of the 1980s. (Wait a minute, is my computer beeping with every letter I'm typing right now?)
Olive's Blu-Ray disc comes via a transfer from MGM, framed at 1.85 in sharp focus with every detail visible, including handbills and flyers on a wall in the background. The film has some slight intentional grain, with the only negative being that the 126-minute movie has been given a single-layer disc resulting in some very slight compression artifacts which were actually more apparent to me being played through the computer drive than my Blu-Ray player.
The Dolby Stereo mix is preserved here in a 2-channel DTS Master Audio track, flagged for PCM output on applicable players thus avoiding any matrix decoding problems. The track is rather involving, with occasional voices offscreen coming from the left or right, along with sounds of rain in a few scenes which adds to the tension. Bill Conti's score ranges from innocent to intense as the atmospheres of the story shift.
And in what looks to be a first from an Olive disc, hearing-impaired subtitles are included here, appearing to have been taken from the closed captions used on previous video issues.Extras:
The theatrical trailer is included in hi-def, which gives away a bit too much of the movie for my taste. It retains the United Artists logo of the period, which is replaced in the actual movie with the current MGM lion roar. (United Artists has typically updated their openings to the current one ever since home video started, even going back to Magnetic Video releases, and it's always bothered me. Films should always include the original studio openings untouched as they are a part of that film's history.)
Finally seeing Betrayed after almost 28 years was a surprise, and I wonder now why I had never checked it out earlier. Stories involving deception are usually very satisfying and this one pushes most of the right buttons. The evil characters in this are unique in that they convey personalities of mostly decent people onscreen- while they have some awful beliefs and ideas, they at least appear on the outside as wholesome family folk, which ultimately makes them both likeable and terrifying. Director Costa-Gavras and writer Joe Eszterhas followed this up the next year with Music Box, which I've had in my vast unwatched laserdisc stack for a while and should now get to watching sooner.