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Betrayed (1988) - Overview, Synopsis, Critique

gary katie hate fbi

Principal social themes: hate groups, racism/civil rights

United Artists. R rating. Featuring: Debra Winger, Tom Berenger, John Heard, Betsy Blair, Ted Levine, John Mahoney, Jeffrey DeMunn, David Clennon, Robert Swann, Richard Libertini, Albert Hall. Written by Joe Eszterhas. Cinematography by Patrick Blossier. Edited by Joële Van Effenterre. Music by Bill Conti. Produced by Irwin Winkler. Directed by Constantin Costa-Gavras. Color. 127 minutes.

Overview

Betrayed is a thriller about an FBI attempt to infiltrate a violent white supremacist group in the Midwest. An undercover female agent becomes close to one of the suspected leaders, eventually agreeing to marry him. Much of the script concentrates on the lives and thought processes of family members belonging to a hate group, in some ways quite normal but in other ways extremely distorted.

Synopsis

The film opens as Sam Kraus, a Chicago radio shock jock, challenges any anti-Semite to call him on the phone. After his broadcast, Kraus is shot while approaching his car in a parking garage. The killer then spray paints the letters ZOG over the body of his victim. The scene shifts to a large wheat field being harvested by a combine, a large farm vehicle. The driver, a woman named Katie Miller, makes the acquaintance of farmer Gary Simmons, a widower. He invites her to dinner, and she meets Gary’s mother and two young children, Joey and Rachel. She finds them all likable people. Later, Katie tells Gary that she has been called away to Texas, where her mother is having an operation. Instead, she goes to the Chicago office of the FBI. She is actually Cathy Weaver, an undercover agent assigned to investigate Gary. She reports that he seems to be a normal family man. She is ordered to return to her assignment. Katie becomes romantically involved with Gary, whom she finds attractive. She even attends church with him and his family. The farmer invites her to join his hunt one evening. Most of the local farmers turn out for this event, acknowledging Gary as their leader. Katie is shocked to discover that they are actually hunting a black man. She reluctantly pretends to join the hunt, but screams in shock when the man is killed. Gary tells her that her reaction is normal, but she must realize they are in a war against ZOG or the “Zionist Occupation Government.” Katie reports to the FBI that their suspicions about Gary are correct. They insist she resume her undercover mission. When she returns, Gary seeks her out and makes love to her, asking her to marry him. She moves into his home. The children are overjoyed, particularly now that they no longer have to keep secrets. Even Rachel, the little girl, uses racial epithets against blacks and Jews. Wes, one of Gary’s associates, does not like Katie, suspecting she may be a “grasshopper,” a spy for the federal government. Gary takes Katie and the kids on an outing to a Ku Klux Klan conference, combining camping, rifle training, and information seminars. When Jack Carpenter, an ultra-conservative candidate for president, shows up at the camp, Gary shouts him down as a phony and not really dedicated to their cause. Katie also learns that Gary is a shooter, a professional assassin, for the group and he had murdered Sam Kraus. They return home, and soon Gary gets another assignment, to kill Jack Carpenter. He also is given papers proving that Katie is an FBI agent named Cathy Weaver. Gary is heartbroken by the revelation. He takes Katie with him when he goes to shoot Carpenter, and before the killing, he tells her that he knows her real identity. Taking aim on Carpenter, Gary challenges her to shoot him. She hesitates, but then kills Gary. A moment later, however, the presidential candidate is shot by a second assassin in another location. Weary, Katie quits the FBI. She travels back to visit Rachel as she leaves church on Sunday. The minister and other members of Gary’s family curse her and denounce her, but Rachel greets her warmly. She bids farewell to Rachel as the end credits appear.

Critique

Betrayed had a mixed critical reaction when it initially appeared. In his movie guide, Leonard Maltin gives the film a low one-and-a-half star rating, calling Katie “the stupidest FBI agent in movie history.” However, his short plot synopsis misrepresents the basic story, suggesting that Katie fell in love with Gary after she learned he was a leader in the hate group. In fact, her personal interest in Gary vanished when she discovered his true nature. The most interesting aspect of Betrayed is the depiction of the hate group members. This can provide ample room for discussion. For example, one member, Shorty, is a kind-hearted and gentle man, but he has become convinced, after the government took his farm, that the U.S. government is controlled by Jews, blacks, and homosexuals. He felt that by joining the group, he was only defending himself. The haunting question is proposed subtly: How many decent people can be indoctrinated by a philosophy of hatred and violence? The example of Nazi Germany can serve as a warning that many people may be vulnerable to a charismatic leader. By presenting a few members of the hate group as decent, the picture emphasizes the virulent nature of hatred.

The story also shows that there are no simple answers. Gary himself was radicalized by the suicide of his father, who had joined a militia group. When he refused to pay his taxes, the government put a lien on his farm and he hanged himself. Gary had been a war hero in Vietnam, winning the Purple Heart and other medals, and he believed he had a genuine love for America before his ideals became corrupted. At the KKK rally, Gary shows remnants of his original feelings, such as when he lashes out at a neo-Nazi selling photos of Adolf Hitler. Ironically Gary is infected with the same racist ideology as the Nazi leader he despises. Perhaps the most shocking moment in the film, however, is when Katie first overhears innocent young Rachel employ the same racist language as her father.

There are numerous references in the film to actual events. Katie’s actual last name, for example, is Weaver, the same as well-known militia leader Randy Weaver of the Ruby Ridge case. By attempting a more realistic portrayal of the followers, not as caricatures but decent people whose views have been perverted, Betrayed tackles another theme, how hate groups manage to recruit individuals to their distorted viewpoints. When questioned by Katie, for example, Shorty admits he never actually met a black or a Jew, so his hatred was cultivated by the group and was not the result of personal experience. A final piece of irony is the title. Who was actually betrayed? Was it Gary, who fell in love with Katie, the undercover agent? Could it have been Katie, who in her initial evaluation considered Gary and his family to be true-blue patriots? Or could it be the ideals of America, betrayed by the detestable agenda of hate groups such as the one championed by Gary and his friends?

Better Late Than Never [next] [back] Betrayal and Guilt

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