Sadly, “The Osterman Weekend,” a disappointing, incoherent thriller, proved to be the last film of the great director Sam Peckinpah, who at his prime gave us such stunning films as “The Wild Bunch” and ”Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.” Peckinpah died a year after this picture’s release.
Adapted to the screen from Robert Ludlum’s best-selling novel, the tale centers on an un-American spy ring, and features a top brass CIA man (played by Burt Lancaster) with his eye on dictatorship.
Rutger Hauer plays flag-waving American John Tanner, the host of a TV news show. Once a year, Tanner spends a long, ritualistic weekend with three of his best friends from college, Bernard Osterman (Craig T. Nelson), Joseph Cardone (Chris Sarandon), and Richard Tremayne (Dennis Hopper).
Turning point occurs when Tanner is approached by Lawrence Fassett (John Hurt), a CIA agent who has evidence proving that his three mates are agents working for the Soviet Union. With Tanner’s reluctant approval, his house is wired with video surveillance equipment so that the CIA can monitor what the trio say and do over their weekend together in hopes of putting the traitors behind bars. To that extent, Peckinpah turns the screen into a multi-purpose surveillance device. However, Tanner soon realizes that Fassett’s agenda is different and more sinister from the one he professes to be.
Though directed with skill, the tale, based on Alan Sharp’s script, is confusing and in some scenes downright incoherent. The movie is too detached, perhaps a result of Peckinpah’s lack of real interest in the plot and its convolutions. But Peckinpah shows his forte in staging violent confrontations, here a shootout around a swimming pool, and occasionally his dark, ironic humor.
In its themes and mood of paranoia, the movie belongs to the era of the post-Vietnam and post-Watergate scandal of the lat 1970s, which might explain its commercial failure (though reviews were also largely dismissive).