Genre: Thriller Running Time: 1 hr. 43 min.
Release Date: November 4th, 1983 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Sam Peckinpah Actors: Rutger Hauer, John Hurt, Craig T. Nelson, Dennis Hopper, Chris Sarandon, Meg Foster, Helen Shaver, Cassie Yates, Burt Lancaster
ased on the Robert Ludlum novel (only his second, though he would later become more famous in the film world for his Bourne series), “The Osterman Weekend” is a perfect example of a specific entertainment format that didn’t translate well to the screen. Partly due to the bland adaptation/scriptwriting and sloppy editing, and partly thanks to Sam Peckinpah’s lackluster direction, there’s a reason why, despite a solid cast – including Rutger Hauer, Dennis Hopper, John Hurt, and Burt Lancaster – few people have heard of this picture. Coincidentally, this would also be the last theatrical feature helmed by the revered auteur before he died.
Lawrence Fassett (John Hurt) is an FBI field operative chosen to coerce John Tanner (Rutger Hauer), a political TV show host, into aiding the agency with a mission to track down Russian terrorist sympathizers. Three of the targets are Tanner’s closest friends: Osterman (Craig T. Nelson), Tremayne (Dennis Hopper), and Cardone (Chris Sarandon), with whom he regularly vacations (get-togethers dubbed “Osterman Weekends”). Unable at first to believe that his longtime pals could be behind such treasonous machinations, he eventually allows Fassett to bug his apartment in an effort to catch his friends in a compromising conversation during the upcoming gathering. As events quickly spiral out of control, Tanner will soon discover that surviving his final Osterman Weekend may be the most difficult task of all.
Opening with music that completely throws off the mood of the film (and which stays sorely mismatched throughout), viewers witness a bizarre murder that seems as unlikely as the melancholy score (by Lalo Schifrin, whose works aren’t usually so unfitting). Without missing a beat, the film establishes Ludlum’s recurring themes of sedition, espionage, and manipulation by governmental secret agencies. “Being wrong is not nearly as important as not admitting it,” says the head of the CIA (Burt Lancaster). Heavy on the cloak-and-dagger motif, protagonist Tanner is comforted by the insistence that he never had a choice in setting up his friends to be accused of felonious conspiring. But with such ideas also comes the popular notion that deception and corruption outrank duty and justice.
Sam Peckinpah has a distinct style that is unmistakably present in all of his films. “The Osterman Weekend” is no exception, utilizing plenty of slow-motion, graphic violence, and frequent nudity. In addition, however, is an absurdly slow pace and lazy character development that make this an overwhelmingly long affair – one too plodding to be spiced up by Peckinpah’s use of visual affronts. A chase scene early on hilariously depicts innocent victims being thrown from their motorcycles and gratuitously wrecking their cars, while, later on, the main character quite recklessly chases down his kidnapped wife and child. Collateral damage is of no consequence. Also present is the director’s preference for voyeurism; just as the CIA director surveils his own agent, Fassett listens in on the events of the weekend through wiretapping – while even Tanner eventually employs his television show for some handy spying.
Focusing too much on studying the behaviors and uneventful personal lives of the large cast of characters (including wives and children and even the family dog), this mostly ignored work is unable to maintain suspense, even with sequences of death and destruction. Despite elaborating on twisty conspiracies and artful backstabbing, not enough care is placed on keeping the audience at the edge of their seats. At least what “Straw Dogs” did for the bear trap (an unexpectedly brutal, impromptu weapon), “The Osterman Weekend” does for the crossbow.
– Mike Massie