The Osterman Weekend (1983)
By: Julian on July 6, 2011  | 
Beyond | All Regions, PAL | 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced | English DD 5.1 | 102 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Sam Peckinpah
Starring: Rutger Hauer, John Hurt, Craig T. Nelson, Dennis Hopper, Chris Sarandon
Screenplay: Alan Sharp
Country: USA
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Sam Peckinpah. An ensemble cast including Rutger Hauer, John Hurt, Craig T. Nelson, Dennis Hopper, Chris Sarandon and Burt Lancaster. The line-up shouldn't produce mediocrity, but it does. The Osterman Weekend is certainly Peckinpah's nadir, a film that barely resembles those films made during his Golden Years from about The Wild Bunch through to Cross of Iron. The Osterman Weekend is not necessarily a bad film, but it's unfortunate that Peckinpah went out with a whimper, instead of the bang so deserving of the man behind Straw Dogs and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.

The Osterman Weekend is based on spy writer Robert Ludlam's (The Bourne Identity) 1972 novel of the same name. Rutger Hauer plays our dapper lead man, John Tanner, an investigative journo whose television show frequently lambasts the shonky and secretive practices of the CIA. When Tanner is approached by agent Lawrence Fassett (John Hurt), he thinks Fassett wants him to run a big, anti-commie lead story. However, the information that Fassett gives Tanner is of a far more personal nature: Tanner's three best friends, all of whom will travel with Tanner to his country house in the coming weekend, are allegedly Soviet operatives working against the United States. Tanner has known the men all of his life, and all three appear to be ordinary, hard-working Americans, but Fassett provides video evidence of Bernard Osterman (Craig T Nelson), Richard Tremayne (Dennis Hopper) and Joseph Cardone (Chris Sarandon) chummily engaging with the enemy. Reluctantly, Tanner agrees to lay a trap for his friends whilst they are on their trip, provided he is able to interview CIA chief Maxwell Danforth (Burt Lancaster) and broadcast the interview on his program.

The phrase "production difficulties" is often used to excuse films that do not live up to expectations, but for few occasions is that phrase more appropriate than in The Osterman Weekend. The relationship between Sam Peckinpah and producers Peter Davis and Bill Panzer was, to say the least, not flash. Although Peckinpah turned the film in under budget and in time, he was effectively locked out of the editing room. It's easy to caricaturise Peckinpah as a belligerent alcoholic and the production team a pair of idealistic careerists, but this would be unfair and simplistic: the excellent documentary on the second disc of this edition paints a more complex picture.

Alan Sharp's screenplay is average, and it is what makes The Osterman Weekend resemble a limp midday-movie. I haven't read the source material, but Sharp's script is sometimes unengaging and often confused. The plodding pace occasionally bursts into some espionage excitement, but these scenes mostly peter off into something a bit puzzling and, ultimately, dull. Even during those clear moments, the spy drama is still pretty run-of-the-mill, with the twist in the tail being a lacklustre comment on media obsessions, incarnate in the climactic interview scene between interrogator Tanner and a stunned Danforth. It is certainly not enough to drive the film.

The premise is brilliant, and I think this drives the film a little bit further than it deserves to go. The cast is a knock-out though – without a shadow of a doubt, it is the film's best asset. Men like John Hurt and Dennis Hopper don't know the meaning of 'bad acting', and their performances especially – but ditto for Hauer, Nelson, Sarandon, Lancaster, Shaver, Foster and Yates – are just terrific. What is most disappointing, though, is that overall this is such a low-calibre film, particularly when you consider the director behind the camera and the performers before it. It makes a few half-hearted attempts to give the media and American spooks a bash, but The Osterman Weekend just never seems to hit the mark.

For all of Peckinpah's obsessions with masculinity and testosterone and male relationships, a movie about a tension-fuelled weekend with four blokes could have been his best. Alas, it was not so – although I suspect the fact that this doomed comeback vehicle was the Great Peckinpah's final movie might encourage critics to treat it a little bit more kindly than it deserves.
Colours are mediocre and film artefeacts such as grain and black and white speckles pop up occasionally, but considering its age the 1.85:1 presentation is serviceable.
The disc comes with remixed 5.1 audio along with the original stereo track. Like the video both show their age, but activity from the surround channels during The Osterman Weekend's action moments gives the 5.1 track the edge.
Extra Features
The first disc contains deleted scenes, a trailer and an audio commentary with a trio of Peckinpah biographers, Garner Simmons, David Weddle and Paul Sedor.

The second disc contains an absolutely top-notch doco, Alpha to Omega: Exposing The Osterman Weekend. Its 78-minutes comprehensively covers the production difficulties (there's that phrase again) that afflicted The Osterman Weekend, and it explores in some depth the relationship between Peckinpah and others. It is a great value feature. In fact, the doco is probably a better watch than the film itself: it contains frank interviews with most of the key players (some notable omissions being Hopper and Lancaster and, obviously, Peckinpah, who died in 1984) and it is a must for Peckinpah aficionados.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
The Osterman Weekend was meant to be Sam Peckinpah's comeback picture: indeed, the return of Peckinpah to Hollywood was the drawcard for a lot of the cast. The fact that Peckinpah genuinely wanted to get back into the game with this movie is quite devastating, because The Osterman Weekend isn't a great film: it's a decent spy picture, abounding with script inconsistencies but bolstered by strong performances, although when you compare this to some of the Legend's earlier movies – from Cross of Iron down – one can hardly believe that the same talent was behind it.

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