DVD Review: The Betrayed (2008)

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You'd think a car crash alone would be enough to ruin your day. Unfortunately, for Golden Globe nominated actress Melissa George's character Jamie in writer/director Amanda Gusack's The Betrayed-- not only was the car crash a high point compared to what would follow-- but the next several days are also ruined when she awakens to find herself held prisoner on the floor of a warehouse.

Yet it isn't a simple kidnap for ransom but more precisely a kidnap for what's owed to the villains when they explain to Jamie that the man she's been married to for six years is in fact a cold blooded killer who worked for the Philadelphia syndicate of an organized crime division. Bluntly informing Jamie that her spouse Kevin had used her simply because she's make a decent "cover," she's also stunned when they note that the man recently double-crossed his employers (a.k.a. her new wardens) to the tune of forty million dollars in drug money.

When Jamie quickly ascertains that she has none of the answers for which they're looking and insists that they must simply have the wrong Kevin when they refer to her husband-- the captors headed up by the masked leader Rathe (Donald Adams) reveal that they are in fact Kevin's colleagues by sharing the most intimate details of her life with her husband.

With zero leverage or information about Kevin's whereabouts including which account or where he could've stashed the forty million doors, Jamie struggles to cope with the mental stress and the physical exertion of being locked in a room and chained in position so that she's directly underneath a shower that her captors turn on at will to try and force her to talk.

Further complicating matters, for Jamie-- concentrating let alone conversing is a nearly impossible feat after they explain that they've given her morphine to try and dull the pain of her severely bruised ribs-- and then reveal that they have her diabetic five year old son Michael whom they coolly state is okay for the time being.

Giving into Jamie's demands for proof that Michael is in fact alive and later going so far as to move her son into locked room next door when Rathe realizes to his surprise that Jamie honestly knows nothing about her husband's extra-curricular position as killer and drug peddler-- Rathe decides that the next thing for Jamie to do if she doesn't have the answers is to find the answers.

Supplying her with a tape recorder and boxes of tapes pulled from surveillance on their home since they'd had the entire place bugged for an extensive period of time, the former computer science student is forced to become a code breaker. As she begins to analyze what sounds on the surface like normal, everyday benign conversations, soon a pattern emerges. Moreover she realizes that-- although she can't fully understand the purpose or decide who to trust-- she may have never known the "real" or true Kevin all along as some exchanges he had with others on the phone seemed to be laced with an entirely different meaning.

While from the start, I thought that the film's set-up was going to ensure that The Betrayed would fall into the same territory as the underrated thriller Cellular. For, similar to the previous work which found Kim Basinger as the mom and Jason Statham as the villain-- a dynamic we see again in this film's relationship between George's Jamie and Abrams' Rathe-- but Abrams' is given much more to work with as we begin realizing that on some level he can relate to Jamie and feels equally betrayed by a man he'd assumed was his best friend.

However, while Cellular careened into an over-the-top action thriller when the college aged protagonist has to pull out all the stops to rescue the damsel-- Betrayed is far more straightforward and could actually have worked on the stage as our main focus is on the protective mother who wants to do anything to save her son.

And to this end, filmmaker Amanda Gusack's take on the situation genuinely surprises those of us who are used to more dynamic, elaborate, multi-character line and action-packed narratives with her brave decision to (aside from a few flashbacks) keep the confines strictly within the main room and hallway of the building in which she's captured.

Obviously this is effective from the standpoint of the budget since essentially everyone has the same wardrobe with the minimal of costume changes and could have in fact just grabbed a t-shirt and jeans from their own closet. But more than just ensuring it remained low-cost, Gusack's 99% one-set movie heightens the urgency of the situation with its naturally masculine, steel set that ratchets up the tension considerably.

As Jamie overhears other captors discuss her life and future death and sees the blood spatter outside her doorway in one instance where another abducted associate was killed, it all feels immediate and scary. Simply put, we're with George's Jamie all the way--even when she makes some foolish attempts to create a diversion and/or exit in a ways that made it even more dangerous for her child. And I'd venture to guess that the actress didn't have to worry about taking a long time to get into character since her scenes all essentially take place in her one room cell that's empty, foreboding, darkly lit, and one wherein a veritable Reservoir Dogs style gun showdown at the end is inevitable.

A strong turn for the Alias and In Treatment star George and an intriguing psychological thriller plot about trying to figure out who to believe and/or who to trust, I felt it was a definite shame that The Betrayed from Fox and MGM hadn't made its way to theatres to give female viewers a female hero in which to root instead of the endless barrage of wedding and shopping movies.

Of course, this being said, Gusack's work isn't without its problems but luckily they are few and far between until the rushed final act wherein unfortunately Gusack weaves in some noticeable and illogical plot contrivances such as Jamie's section of precisely the right cassette tape at the right instant and one of those foolish only-in-the-movies countdown clocks that shows a few minutes but amazingly takes about three times the length cinematically before "O" flashes on the screen.

Still, despite some of the check-your-brain at the door action movie mandates (which you'll need to do much more often in another fun but dubious action work this week from Fox via John Cena's 12 Rounds), Gusack's truly impressive work all the way through and much better than some of our recent attempts at blending intellectualism, psychology and action on the big screen.

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