The Osterman Weekend (1983)


(director: Sam Peckinpah; screenwriters: Alan Sharp/Ian Masters/based on the book by Robert Ludlum; cinematographer: John Coquillon; editors: David Rawlins/Edward Abroms; music: Lalo Schifrin; cast:Rutger Hauer (John Tanner), John Hurt (Lawrence Fassett), Craig T. Nelson (Bernard Osterman), Dennis Hopper (Richard Tremayne), Chris Sarandon (Joseph Cardone), Burt Lancaster (Maxwell Danforth), Sandy McPeak (Stennings), Meg Foster (Ali Tanner); Runtime: 102; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Peter Davis/Willianm. N. Panzer; Anchor Bay; 1983)
“A wild ride into Cold War paranoia and the dangers of technocracy.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The final film of Sam Peckinpah (“Convoy”/”Straw Dogs”/”The Wild Bunch”), he died a year after the film’s release, is a wild ride into Cold War paranoia and the dangers of technocracy. It’s loosely based on the best-seller by Robert Ludlum and deftly written by Alan Sharp and Ian Masters. It features betrayal among close friends and workplace partners, media manipulation of the public, and dastardly criminal acts in the name of patriotism by America’s top spooks. The sinister mind-bending suspense thriller is directed with great skill by Peckinpah, but it’s too impersonal, the plot is too convoluted, and it’s too far-fetched to be entirely credible. It misses the heart in its attempt to attack modern-man’s reliance on getting all its info from TV, even if it is interesting and has something poignant to say about the media’s manipulation of society as it relentlessly questions what’s real.

John Tanner (Rutger Hauer) is the family man, married to suburban beauty Ali (Meg Foster), and is a naturalized US citizen, who has become a controversial flag-waving host of an investigative television news show called Face to Face. Once a year he spends a weekend with three of his best friends from college, his TV producer Bernard Osterman (Craig T. Nelson), financier Joseph Cardone (Chris Sarandon), and the plastic surgeon Richard Tremayne (Dennis Hopper). It’s been dubbed the “Osterman Weekend” ever since the television writer/producer came up with the idea.

Tanner is reluctantly recruited by the disgruntled slimy CIA agent Fassett (John Hurt) to help expose his college buds as Russian spies, as Fassett uses surveillance equipment to prove to the incredulous Tanner that his friends are traitors. Tanner’s California house (Robert Taylor’s former mansion) is filled in every room with state-of-the-art surveillance video devices to spy on everyone. Fassett receives the green light for this nefarious operation by ruthless CIA chief Danforth (Burt Lancaster), an ambitious right-wing super-patriot who will not play by the rules to get Reds and who doesn’t give a damn whom he hurts in the process to make sure his personal political ambitions are realized. Danforth is convinced by the skillful operative that by getting to these supposed three spies he will get one of them to break the secretive Omega spy network run by the KGB. But the weekend results in a strange turn of events–firstly there’s mysteriously a dog’s head in a fridge and more importantly it turns out that the mysterious operative Fassett was using Tanner to get revenge on Danforth for ordering the nasty execution of his foreigner wife and concocted the spy story to expose Danforth’s abuse of power on national TV.

In press interviews, Peckinpah said that the movie was re-edited by 20th Century-Fox and that this isn’t his own final cut. Nevertheless, he says it’s still a pretty damn good movie. I have to agree, but it would have made more sense if it was more coherent as intended