Wednesday, November 19, 2014

BETRAYED (1988) - Costa-Gavras

Poor Debra Winger. In terms of leading men, the '80s started out pretty great for her. A handsome mechanical bull riding Travolta in Urban Cowboy. A young, heroic Richard Gere in An Officer and a Gentleman. She even got some rogue Nick Nolte action in Cannery Row. But then come the mid-to-late '80s, and things get sketchier. Husband Jeff Daniels ("Flap") not only cheats on her in Terms of Endearment, but cheats on her WHILE SHE HAS CANCER. In Mike's Murder, her one night stand winds up dead then turns out to have a been drug dealer and possibly of a different sexual orientation (he REALLY wasn't that into you). In Black Widow, she lands a wealthy tycoon for all of two seconds until her real love interest, Theresa Russell, kills him off almost as fast. Then comes the end of the '80s and Betrayed, and who does Winger wind up in bed with? A militant racist Tom Berenger in a muddled, middle of the road Joe Eszterhaus script.

Watching this movie, I couldn't help but feel for Winger, one of my actress faves. Betrayed? Yes, indeed. Plus, the original synopsis I read for this movie was kind of a misnomer. In Betrayed, the man FBI agent Winger is investigating (Berenger) is not so much a Nazi or Neo-Nazi. He's more your garden variety racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic redneck murderer who also happens to own a very large cache of guns. Kinda of like Sgt. Barnes in Platoon but without the U.S. military imprimatur.

There's a scene (above) where Berenger, with Winger along for the ride, rolls up next to some actual Neo-Nazis selling antique Lugers at a racist retreat (think Disneyland for the wildly intolerant). He spits in contempt, shouting after they leave that his "granddaddy died fighting those bastards in WWII." It's actually a funny scene (intended or accidental), a peek into the extravagantly compartmentalized mind of your average country bigot. Berenger's character doesn't seem to realize that they are, by default, on the same side.

Beyond the odd Nazi vs. Peckerwood showdown, there's not a lot to recommend about Betrayed. Costa-Gavras is not the most subtle of directors, and this is by no means his classic Z. There is one disturbing scene where Winger goes to tell one of Berenger's kids a bedtime story, only to be met with a spew of racist epithets. Out of Berenger's mouth, these would sound routine. Out of the mouth of indoctrinated babes, however, it's nothing short of creepy.

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