The Osterman Weekend (1983)

Country: United States
Director: Sam Peckinpah
Starring: Rutger Hauer, John Hurt, Craig T. Nelson, Dennis Hopper, Chris Sarandon, Meg Foster, Helen Shaver, Cassie Yates, Jan Triska, Burt Lancaster
Music: Lalo Schifrin
Based on the novel by Robert Ludlum

Although directed by the legendary Sam Peckinpah and based on the best selling novel by Robert Ludlum, The Osterman Weekend is a huge disappointment.

With security cameras everywhere, voyeurism is one of the main themes of the movie. Maybe Peckinpah in his prime could have made a valid point about privacy and security issues. But in this case, the voyeurism is used for cheap titillation. It seems that whenever the pace of the movie slows down, the female characters disrobe. In fact the female leads spend most of their screen time in various states of undress.

At the end of the movie, John Tanner (Rutger Hauer), during a broadcast of his TV program, makes a speech urging viewers at home to turn off their television sets. At the same time, with the subtlety of a wrecking ball, Peckinpah tries to convince us that we the viewers (be it cinema or at home) had the same opportunity to ‘turn off’ or ‘walk out’ during the previous ninety minutes. Instead we chose to watch the show. We wallowed in the violence and leered at the sex.

Maybe Peckinpah’s right. But if you paid good money to see the film in the cinema or hired a copy from a video library, you’d want to get your money’s worth. Perhaps Tanner’s speech should have been printed on the movie poster and on the video/DVD packaging, so we could decide to ‘turn off’ before we had spent good money.

For the opening scenes the image is pixelated and grainy, like it would appear if you were watching closed circuit television. The image is Lawrence Fassett (John Hurt) having sex with his wife. Once Fassett is spent, he leaves the room to have a shower. While he’s out of the room, two KGB agents enter the bedroom. One stops Fassett’s wife from screaming, while the other produces a hypodermic needle and inserts it up her nose – I guess this is so that there are no obvious puncture wounds on the body? When Fassett returns his wife is dead!

It is indeed a video tape we are watching, and we are in C.I.A. headquarters. Chief Maxwell Danforth (Burt Lancaster) is being debriefed on his agent Fassett. After the death of his wife, Fassett went wild in his attempts to track down her killer. In the process he discovered a cell of KGB agents called Omega.

Omega are three successful American business men, who operate under communist spy master Andrei Mikalovich. The men from Omega are: Stockbroker, Joseph Carbone (Chris Sarandon); Plastic surgeon, Richard Tremayne (Dennis Hopper); and Television producer, Bernard Osterman (Craig T. Nelson).

Apart from being communist spies, the three men also have one other thing in common. They all went to college together with their friend John Tanner (Rutger Hauer). Tanner is now the successful host of ‘Face To Face’, which is a television talk show. His show is controversial and he often tackles weighty issues and interviews politicians and members of the defence force. He wants to interview C.I.A. Maxwell Danforth. And luckily he will get his chance.

Danforth and Fassett seek Tanner’s help. They want him to help ‘turn’ one of his communist friends. Tanner reluctantly agrees, but on one condition – that he gets to interview Danforth. The deal is done.

Since college days, the four men, Tanner, Carbone, Tremayne, and Osterman arrange holiday weekends together. They call these weekends ‘Ostermans’ as it was Bernie who started the tradition in college. The upcoming weekend an ‘Osterman’ is planned and Tanner is to be the host. Fassett moves quickly an crams all the latest surveillance equipment into Tanner’s house. And then waits for the guests to arrive.

The music for The Osterman Weekend is by Lalo Schifrin. I am a big fan of Schifrin’s work, but this is not one of his greatest moments. The music is soft saxophone jazz, that sounds like music from a 70’s porno flick. Given this films subject matter and style, it may be a purposeful stylisation, but it doesn’t make for great listening.

Generally speaking, and with the exception of the Matt Damon Bourne movies, Ludlum’s books haven’t translated too well to the silver screen. The first attempt at The Bourne Identity with Richard Chamberlain was a misfire, and The Holcroft Covenant was undone by an air of sleaze and unpleasantness. Similarly, The Osterman Weekend is a sleazy affair. I know that Peckinpah is making a point about voyeurism and media manipulation, but it doesn’t mean I want to watch it.

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