by Carl Lyon
Senior Staff Writer

John Tanner (Rutger Hauer) is an investigative journalist with a chip on his shoulder. On his news program Face To Face he interviews and exposes his government interviewees for their scandalous transgressions against the American people. This high profile, liberal behavior brings him to the attention of the CIA, and Maxwell Danforth (gruffly played by the legendary Burt Lancaster). Danforth petitions Tanner to help the CIA uncover a group of KGB double agents working on a Soviet germ warfare program codenamed Omega during a weekend reunion with his friends from Berkeley. Unfortunately, the traitors he is exposing are his friends taking part in the titular Osterman Weekend.

Tanner reluctantly agrees only after guaranteeing a television interview with Danforth after the job is complete. The CIA brings in Agent Fassett (John Hurt) to supervise the mission, which liberally peppers the Tanner home with surveillance equipment. All Tanner has to do is act normally, to treat his friends with the same respect and care as if he didnít know.

That proves to be much more difficult than originally thought. Tannerís fervent love for his country, coupled with undeniable proof of his friendsí guilt pulls the rope of tolerance a little too taut for comfort. Not only that, but someone has been alerting the three alleged agents that they are being exposed as traitors, and all fingers point right back to Tanner, pulling the rope right to its breaking point.

Between its stunning direction, fabulous set pieces, an amazing cast (Hauer, Hurt, Lancaster, Craig T. Nelson, Dennis Hopper, and many more) The Osterman Weekend should have been the golden capstone to Sam Peckinpahís long, acclaimed career. Sadly, it was not meant to be. The troubled production of Peckinpahís films is the stuff of legends, with horror stories of once-perfect films left in scraps on the cutting-room floor, and Osterman is no exception. Viewing the original rough screener cut on the second disc of Anchor Bayís set hints at a more cohesive film, sadly forced to the side by confused test audiences and angry producers. People often refer to this as a whimpering death to Peckinpahís career, when it truly isnít. It may not have the adventurous spirit of The Wild Bunch, or quite as heady a social commentary as Straw Dogs, but itís far from being Peckinpahís worst (that easily goes to Convoy).

Unfortunately, people canít look past the script, which is a prime example of compression. Taking a book by Robert Ludlum (whose topsy-turvy plot twists are already tough enough to put your head around) and stuffing it into a brisk sub-100 minute run time (Iím not including credits) is a Herculean feat. But if all the dime store film critics were to get over the movieís plot flaws (an issue that wasnít Peckinpahís fault), theyíll see a solid last film from Bloody Sam. His graceful slow-mo action scenes hit a perfect tempo, from a stunning car chase, to a fistfight between Hauerís and Nelsonís characters, to the final swimming pool shootout, the breathtaking action alternately gives you guilty shivers or painful grimaces. They play out like brutal ballets, elegant yet savage, which can bring any real action fan to the height of ecstasy.

The cast also does a knockout job. Everyone showed up to play, and it shows. From Dennis Hopperís weaselly Tremayne (complete with coke-snorting wife) to John Hurtís Oz-behind-the-curtain turn as the voyeuristic and vengeful Fassett, to Burt Lancasterís pompous turn as Danforth, the acting is solid and believable across the board. They also interact with one another wonderfully, making the cat-and-mouse head games in the Tanner household even more excruciatingly tense.

Anchor Bay has released The Osterman Weekend as part of their Divimax series with sadly mixed results. While colors are vivid and edges crisp, the grain becomes almost unbearable at times. Itís upsetting simply because ABís Divimax releases are usually the cream of the crop, and releasing such a flawed print under that proud moniker seems sloppy. While other releases have had similar problems (i.e. The Hills Have Eyes), they didnít have the Divimax name to live up to. Audio fares much better however, giving us wonderfully clean tracks in either Dolby 5.1 or 6.1 DTS-ES. While the lack of the original mix may disappoint some purists, the new digital mixes are simply beautiful, with excellent (if spare) surround use and crystal clarity.

Now letís get to extras, because this is where AB has really delivered the goods. Weíre given a commentary track with a quartet of Sam Peckinpah "historians," a theatrical trailer, a still gallery, bios, and a very meaty documentary titled "Alpha To Omega." It covers a lot of material, and features interviews with almost the entire cast as well as the producers. Best of all is the inclusion of a "rough cut" of the film, as it was originally screened to test audiences. You have the option of watching it in its entirety, or to view the individual scenes that differed greatly from the final cut. Sure, it may not look very nice (no remastering), but itís truly fascinating to see how Peckinpahís original vision was forced to change.

While not as lauded as his other films, Sam Peckinpahís The Osterman Weekend is still highly recommended for spy and action junkies. Its plot may be a little confusing, as well as dated (even for 1983), but itís still one hell of a movie, and a classy end to an illustrious career.


Osterman Weekend, The
Year: 1983

Reviewer: Graeme Clark

Director: Sam Peckinpah

Stars: Rutger Hauer, John Hurt, Craig T. Nelson, Dennis Hopper, Chris Sarandon, Meg Foster, Burt Lancaster, Helen Shaver, Cassie Yates, Sandy McPeak, Christopher Starr, Cheryl Carter, Tim Thomerson

Genre: Action, Thriller
Rating: 6 (from 1 vote)

Review: C.I.A. boss Maxwell Danforth (Burt Lancaster) is a ruthless man, and he now has his sights set on a shadowy spy organisation known only as Omega as a way to gain a dangerous amount of power. He gets Fassett (John Hurt), an agent whose wife Danforth had ordered killed, to set up a plan to bring in investigative television journalist John Tanner (Rutger Hauer) to expose one of his three friends from his college days, all of whom have links to Omega, so that the C.I.A. can ostensibly turn them around and make a double agent out of them. Tanner will need quite some convincing that his friends are a danger to his beloved U.S.A., and so Fassett employs the help of extensive surveillance equipment - they say the camera never lies, after all...

This convoluted spy caper was based on the novel by Robert Ludlum, adapted by Ian Masters and scripted by Alan Sharp, and was the last film of its director, Sam Peckinpah, who had not directed a film since Convoy five years previously. It would be nice to say that Peckinpah left us with one real gem, but The Osterman Weekend is so wrapped up in a plot that deliberately sets out to confuse that only those viewers prepared to pay the maximum attention to the deceptions and double crosses need bother watching. On the other hand, even those who do admit defeat when faced with the labyrinth that is the storyline can take pleasure in the black comedy and pervasive air of paranoia that is conjured up.

Using secretly filmed footage of Tanner's friends, Fassett shows them apparently meeting with K.G.B. agents and making deals to overthrow the U.S. government. But only when Tanner meets Danforth face to face is he convinced, and agrees to invite his friends around to his retreat in the country for a weekend of leisure - and try to persuade one of the Omega team to take up the cause of the C.I.A. Tanner doesn't want his wife (Meg Foster) and young son around when the weekend is taking place, and drives them to the airport.

Suddenly, while Tanner is distracted, an assailant knocks his wife and son out with gas and drives off with them in Tanner's car. The action sequence which follows sums up the tone, as we don't know if the kidnapper works for Omega, or if he is in league with Danforth. Or is a vengeful Fassett behind the incident? Conveniently, the kidnapper is shot dead by Fassett's men from a helicopter, further muddying the real truth. Fassett says later on that the truth is a lie that hasn't been found out yet, and there's plenty to be exposed before the weekend is over.

Who's pulling the strings? The men behind the plotting will have the people they deceive believe anything as long as it furthers their cause, whether it be the revenge of Fassett or Danforth's aspirations of power. Tanner finds himself cooking up his own personal deception before the close, as well, which sees an admonition to those who believe everything they see on television. Don't believe what the media tells you is the message here, as the images on the hidden cameras, many of which are set up in Tanner's home, are employed to further the more devious characters' version of events. There is a peculiar streak of dark wit running through The Osterman Weekend, which ranges from a dog's head in a fridge to Hurt's cleverly insinuating performance, and the action, full of slow motion shots of course, is exciting enough. But not everyone will have the patience to see the story through to the end. Music by Lalo Schifrin.

[The DVD has as special features a commentary with Peckinpah experts, an hour-and-a-quarter long documentary which becomes a tribute to the director, the trailer, and, making this an essential purchase for fans, Peckinpah's original cut of the film, which isn't in great shape, but is an interesting bonus.]


The Osterman Weekend
By Christopher Null | Oct 1, 2005

Think The Big Chill, but if all but one of the attendees were Soviet secret agents... or are they??? Rutger Hauer plays the good guy for once, as a Hardball-style TV show host who becomes convinced by a vengeful CIA agent (John Hurt) that his pals (including Craig T. "Coach" Nelson as the titular Osterman -- "a nihilistic anarchist living on risiduals") are all KGB operatives. Sam Peckinpah's final movie is stylish, has loads of nudity and other debauchery, and makes virtually no sense at all. Cheers!

Director : Sam Peckinpah

Producer : Peter S. Davis, William N. Panzer

Screenwriter : Ian Masters, Alan Sharp

Stars : Rutger Hauer, John Hurt, Craig T. Nelson, Dennis Hopper, Chris Sarandon, Meg Foster, Helen Shaver, Cassie Yates, Sandy McPeak, Christopher Starr, Burt Lancaster, Cheryl Carter

MPAA Rating : R

Year of Release : 1983

Released on Video : 03/23/2004

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