Osterman Weekend, The (1983): Peckinpah’s Last Movie, Starring Burt Lancaster, John Hurt, Rutger Hauer

The Osterman Weekend, a disappointing, incoherent thriller, proved to be the last film of the great director Sam Peckinpah, who died a year after this picture’s release.

At his prime, Peckinpah made such stunning films as “The Wild Bunch” and ”Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.”

Adapted to the screen from Robert Ludlum’s best-selling novel, the tale centers on Un-American spy ring, featuring a top-brass CIA man (played by Burt Lancaster) who sets his eyes on dictatorship.

Rutger Hauer plays a 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).

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 it to be.

Though directed with skill, the tale, based on Alan Sharp’s script, is often confusing and sometimes 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, culminating in a shootout around a swimming pool, and occasionally his dark, ironic humor.

In its theme and mood of paranoia, the movie very reflected the zeitgeist of the era in which it was made, the post-Vietnam and post-Watergate scandal of the mid to late 1970s.

This might partially explain the movie’s commercial failure, though the reviews were also largely dismissive.