It often happens that a movie character you trust the most turns out to be a backstabber. Countless movies have employed the betrayal technique for creating drama & thrill. Such movies often have a climactic showdown between the backstabber and the stabbed. But there are some movies where one of the main characters is the backstabber. This betrayal of our expectations makes the film infinitely more engaging. With that said, here is the list of best movies about betrayals and traitors.
12. And Then There Were None (1945)
This film is a brilliant edge-of-the-seat film-noir adaptation of an Agatha Christie novel. It feels like a cinematic ballad of suspense and murder, which is a rare commodity. The plot itself is intriguing – ten strangers are invited to an isolated island mansion where they start getting murdered. There is nobody on the island except themselves meaning one of them is the killer. What makes the film interesting further is that the murders occur according to a nursery rhyme – ‘Ten Little Indian Boys’.
When the revelation comes finally, it is devastating and least expected. Every one of the characters appears to be in the clear throughout but the murders occur nonetheless. This film is an excellent execution of backstabbing in fiction. It is worth watching for the way the plot unravels and the charm of black-and-white cinema alone. Expect to be shocked & betrayed but most of all, thoroughly entertained by this gem.
11. Gaslight (1944)
George Cukor is a master story-teller in his own right. And when he teams up with the divine Ingrid Bergman and the phenomenal Charles Boyer, one expects nothing short of riveting cinema. In ‘Gaslight’, we follow a newly-wed couple as their marriage complicates dramatically, with the wife gradually becoming insane. But things are not as black-and-white as they seem to be. What follows eventually is like a cross between Alfred Hitchcock and Otto Preminger.
This compelling film-noir builds up to betrayal from early on, but the magnitude of it still comes as a shock. The black-and-white imagery and mise-en-scene makes the movie further suspenseful and eerie. The fact that ‘Gaslight’ won two Oscars further establishes how good it is. And given how most movie-goers would watch even a TV advertisement with Ingrid Bergman in it, this film is a particularly rewarding cinematic experience.
10. L.A. Confidential (1997)
There are few detective movies that are more layered, dense and action-packed than ‘L.A. Confidential’. It tells a solid story, develops its characters profoundly and keeps you captivated till the end. We follow three LA cops as they try to investigate a series of murders with their own methods. But we soon discover that there may be a lot more to it than meets the eye. And when it hits us, it comes as one of the most sudden and shocking twists ever.
The film is very classy and gripping, and its betrayal is one of the most unforgettable with the backstabber being so unpredictable. Even otherwise, ‘L.A. Confidential’ is a highly entertaining detective flick with its stellar cast not disappointing at all. The immersive Los Angeles setting adds to the film’s charm without seeming clichéd. The movie does justice to its long run-time which can not be said for most other movies.
9. Trainspotting (1996)
The quintessential drug-film, ‘Trainspotting’ has become deeply ingrained in contemporary pop-culture. This hysterical is film full of heroin, sex, disgust, black-comedy and of course, deceit. Probably the biggest appeal of ‘Trainspotting’ is the wildly amusing Scottish setting, complete with Scottish slang and the thick accent. Even though we find it hard to ever identify with the characters, the film’s major backstabbing, from the main character himself, takes it up a notch.
This movie may be somewhat single-dimensional and unstrirring morally, but it is highly entertaining nonetheless. The situations that its characters put themselves in are provocative and unsettling, that is – they do their job. ‘Trainspotting’ sets the ground running from the beginning itself, and never loses steam till the end when the betrayal occurs. It is a great portrayal of the drug-culture of today and a wonderful watch.
8. Coffy (1973)
‘Coffy’ can be regarded as the representative blaxploitation film with its vivid and intense action, lurid content and its coolness quotient. Starring the fierce and eye-catching Pam Grier as she goes on a vigilante justice spree, killing drug dealers and mob bosses. She puts her robust sexuality to use in getting access to these hard-boiled criminals before popping their heads open with her shotgun. The film is an undeniable classic for those who love sensual exploitation thrillers.
‘Coffy’ features a betrayal that is especially devastating for its femme-fatale protagonist, because there are few people that she can trust. However, she handsomely pays the backstabber back with metal. This film is a gripping, out and out entertainer with some scenes of extremely enjoyable intensity. ‘Coffy’ impresses with its quirky characters and its swank dialogue, and is a must-see for exploitation lovers. And expect to get thrilled just as its tagline says, ‘Coffy’ll cream ya!’
7. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
‘The Treasure of the Sierra Madre’ is undoubtedly one of the best films ever made. The intense plot follows three desperate men journey from poverty to prospecting for gold in remote Mexican mountains and the complications thereafter. Right from the start, there is cheating, treachery and betrayal. Furthermore, the film has the eternally remarkable Humphrey Bogart playing Fred Dobbs, who is highly suspicious and paranoid. Put a lot of gold among three men and backstabbing is virtually inevitable.
After they have extracted large amounts of gold, Dobbs begins to get unreasonably worried that someone will kill him to acquire his share. This reaches such a fever pitch that he starts losing his sanity. What follows in this densely packed film is worth watching multiple times. ‘The Treasure of the Sierra Madre’ has since become a widely known and renowned specimen of the Golden Era of Hollywood.
6. Reservoir Dogs (1992)
In 1992, Quentin Tarantino burst onto the film scene with his inventive gangster thriller, ‘Reservoir Dogs’. He set the bar exceptionally high with his suave debut film and has seldom fallen below it since then. This movie is remarkably innovative in its narrative and method. ‘Reservoir Dogs’ follows six professional criminals who are put on a diamond heist job by their common boss. They do not know each other and when the job goes fatally awry, they begin suspecting each other of being police informers.
The entire movie is built around a massive betrayal which is confronted in a blood-fueled shootout scene at the end. But, the audience knows the identity of the backstabber already, due to the film’s non-linear chronology. ‘Reservoir Dogs’ is a thrilling black-comedy heavy on crafty dialogue and rich in style. Like almost every other Tarantino film, it has become an indispensable part of modern pop culture.
5. Charley Varrick (1973)
This criminally underrated mob movie starring the amazing Walter Matthau is a film that makes you wonder why you didnt see it before. Directed by Don Siegel, ‘Charley Varrick’ is such an exciting movie that it makes you wonder how quickly time went by. The premise seems somewhat run-of-the-mill but the film is still impressive today. A man, Charley Varrick, robs a bank with his wife and a friend, but the money that they steal belongs to the mafia who will get the money and their revenge, at all costs. ‘Charley Varrick’ is made unforgettable by its quirky characters and the hip ‘bad-guy’ dialogue that seems too fantastical for ordinary people.
Given the soup they’re in, Varrick and his accomplice have to be cautious and aware, which eventually leads to betrayals and deceit. The film has a lot going on and it draws us in completely. Some of the scenes are especially brilliant and linger on the viewer’s mind. It all leads up to a clever climax, complete with airplanes and mob hit-men. ‘Charley Varrick’ has since inspired many films and directors alike.
4. The Godfather II (1974)
Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather movies do not need any introduction whatsoever. The first two parts of his trilogy are rightfully counted among the best movies ever made. In ‘The Godfather II’, the reins of the Corleone mafia family are handed over to Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone. Michael holds an even more powerful and fearsome sway over the syndicate than his father, Don Vito Corleone. And in this movie, his highly fierce grip gets rattled by betrayal from within his own family.
Loyalty is the most important virtue in organised crime, which is why most mafia dons operate within their families. But, as this film portrays, this practice is not always fool-proof. Michael’s loosing confidence in his confidantes fueled further by this backstabbing forms the central tension in ‘The Godfather II’. Both the Godfather movies are essential viewing for anybody looking to get conversant in cinema.
3. Goodfellas (1990)
Another exceptional specimen of the gangster movie is Martin Scorcese’s widely acclaimed ‘Goodfellas’. Scorcese is no stranger to the mafia movie genre and has made some of the most popular crime films. In ‘Goodfellas’, we follow mobster Henry Hill’s journey from being enamored of the mafioso as a child to becoming a gangster himself. His journey finally ends with him betraying all his fellow comrades and becoming a witness for the police in return for exoneration.
‘Goodfellas’ is the quintessential black-comedy movie, filled with outrageous situations and witty dialogue. It ranks pretty high in terms of movie betrayals due to the fact that the backstabber is the protagonist himself. This film boasts a superb cast with Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci. No amount of words can do justice to the experience of watching ‘Goodfellas’ which everyone must go through at least once.
2. Breathless (1960)
Jean-Luc Godard’s breakout film ‘Breathless’ not only announced his arrival on the film scene but also the French New Wave’s. His debut film is one of the few films whose release marked a watershed moment in cinematic history. His innovative ‘breathless’ editing, jump-cuts and the restless handheld camera inspire film-makers to this day. But, loose as it may be, ‘Breathless’ also has a narrative storyline. Jean-Paul Belmondo, playing a petty thief on the run, reunites with his American girlfriend, Jean Seberg. They have an eventful time together which ends with Seberg ratting him out and Belmondo getting shot.
This massive betrayal does not quite seem as shocking as it should, because Godard’s characters hardly believe in conformity. They say things differently, and do things differently yet. The movie follows in their footsteps as it avoids one rule after another, with the result being a harmonious blend of the extraordinary. ‘Breathless’ is an absolute essential watch for every ardent film buff and is an excellent film to introduce oneself to the works of Godard.
1. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)
If you only watch one movie on this list, make it this one. One of the best movies and a towering accomplishment of modern cinema, ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’ deserves much wider renown. This Cold War-era spy mystery based on a John Le Carre novel is an artful and atmospheric movie, which is an extremely rare occurence. Directed by Tomas Alfredson, who also helmed the superb vampire thriller ‘Let the Right One In’, this movie is aesthetically and stylistically superior to most films, even the most famous ones. The skill and craft reflected by this film is distinctive and immediately identifiable. It has done absolute justice to its secretive spy theme with the cold and grave atmosphere it creates.
In ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’ we follow the top command of Britain’s intelligence service, six professional spies, as their chief suspects one of them to be a Russian double-agent, right at the peak of the Cold War. The story takes mind-bending turns that are difficult to process and understand in a single viewing. The film features a bunch of phenomenal actors like Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, John Hurt and Benedict Cumberbatch. This movie is a definite must watch and once you have seen it, you will be compelled to re-watch it multiple times.
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