Friday, 26 June 2015

THE OSTERMAN WEEKEND - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Unfairly Maligned Peckinpah Part 1

The Osterman Weekend (1983)
Dir. Sam Peckinpah
Starring: Rutger Hauer, John Hurt, Burt Lancaster, Dennis Hopper,
Meg Foster, Helen Shaver, Cassie Yates, Craig T. Nelson. Chris Sarandon

Review By Greg Klymkiw

I think the critics who trashed Sam Peckinpah's The Osterman Weekend when it first came out in 1983 were completely out to lunch about one key detail. Even though both Peckinpah and screenwriter Alan Sharp were dissatisfied with the script (based on Robert Ludlum's novel), the common critical complaint was the unintelligibility factor. My response on that front is: HOGWASH! Is the film a mass of confusion and mystery? It sure is, but none of this is detrimental to one's overall enjoyment of the film since it's the very inscrutability of the strange riddles haunting all its characters which keeps us guessing and which, is ultimately so simple, that we want to kick ourselves in the head for not getting "it".

I will admit that my first helping of the film theatrically was fraught with some disappointment at its lack of over-the-top bloodletting, but recent screenings (the DVD edition from ten-years ago and the new Blu-Ray release, both via Anchor Bay) restored my faith in Peckinpah's direction and his take on the material.

And back in the day, what in the Hell was I thinking about? The movie is incredibly violent (much of it submerged in the weird social dynamics of the "friends" who are getting together for weekend frolics) and eventually, all out nail baiting suspense and action during the final third of the picture.

In addition to all of that, there's a substantial creep factor to the whole affair which makes you feel like a vigorous scrub with a fresh, brand new loofah pad to exfoliate yourself of all the vile filth necrotizing upon your flesh.

John Tanner (Rutger Hauer) is a superstar TV journalist whose penetrating interviews are both feared and lauded by politicians and bureaucrats alike. His connections at all levels of government are deep seeded. His best friends from college include a number of successful power brokers all thriving in disparate, but successful fields and each year they have a weekend get-together spurred on by Bernie Osterman (Craig T. Nelson), a TV-news producer and John's closest friend.

This year's "Osterman" weekend is going to be a bit different for all concerned. John has been recruited by Lawrence Fassett (John Hurt), a mysterious CIA field operative. It seems Osterman and John's other pals, plastic surgeon Richard Tremayne (Dennis Hopper), his snarky, coke-snorting wife Virginia (Helen Shaver), sleazily brilliant stock trader Joseph Cardone (Chris Sarandon) and sexy, loopy wifey Betty (Cassie Yates) are all making scads of extra dough as Soviet spies. Fassett wants to surveil the entire weekend and use John to expose his friends, but to also broker a deal to "turn" them into double agents.

John agrees to this entire mad scheme because he's a genuine patriot, but most of all, he's promised a one-on-one no-holds-barred interview with Maxwell Danforth (Burt Lancaster), a kind of CIA equivalent to the FBI's J. Edgar Hoover.

The weekend, however, goes horribly awry - mostly because John is out of his depth. Coupled with a domestic dispute with his wife Ali (Meg Foster), his overt nervousness and the fact that he and his family are going into this after a harrowing kidnap attempt upon them by Soviet agents. Tanner is convinced all his friends know what he's up to and they in turn are besieged with their own domestic entanglements as well as fearing their old pal is using the weekend to nail them.

Peckinpah beautifully handles the sordid, nasty veneer of bourgeois excess which slowly descends into the kind of bitter acrimonious game-playing which would feel more at home in George and Martha's demented domestic set-up in Edward Albee's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf". And let's not forget that everything, every nook and cranny of John's home is outfitted with hidden surveillance cameras as our fey, chain-smoking Fassett voyeuristically observes several banks of monitors, like some mad Peeping Tom.

Tensions amongst the friends mount to extreme proportions and one can feel the potential for an explosion of violence. And when it comes, it's one shocker after another, all filtered through Peckinpah's astonishing feel for the mad ballet of carnage when men and women transform into seething, stalking beasts of prey.

Survival instinct is one thing and Peckinpah amps it up to total Red Alert, but amidst it all is a completely unhinged psychopath who will stop at nothing to extract life from anyone and everyone at all costs.

This is dazzling stuff. Of course, it could have even been far more vile and demented, but once again, poor Peckinpah was assailed by producers who refused to acquiesce to his complete vision, one which took voyeurism and vengeance to borderline extremes of surrealism. In spite of this, what's left is plenty effective.

My most recent screening of the picture on Blu-Ray was like a veil had been joyously lifted from the images and dramatic action. Upon first seeing The Osterman Weekend in 1983, the CIA surveillance methods in the movie seemed like science fiction, but nowadays, what's all on display is, quite miraculously, a chilling mirror image of both the contemporary mainstream media manipulation we're assailed with and the 1984-like invasion of our privacy. I can't help but think that Peckinpah was all-too aware that his film would be released on the eve of the actual year of Our Lord, 1984. The Orwellian undercurrent is perfectly in synch with the film's narrative, Peckinpah's taut, imaginative mise-en-scene and a kind of newfound power the film has attained in light of all that currently plagues us.

The Osterman Weekend was clearly ahead of its time.

As such, "Bloody" Sam got the last laugh on all of us.


The Osterman Weekend is available on Blu-Ray from Anchor Bay Entertainment Canada and Anchor Bay/Starz (in the USA). It ports over two key extras from the original DVD release from 10 years ago, a commentary track from by film historians/critics (and Peckinpah aficionados) Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons, David Weddle and Nick Redman. Best of all is the 80-minute making-of documentary Alpha to Omega. Sadly missing from this release is Peckinpah's cut of the film. Granted, it was a crude telecine transfer of the 35mm work print, but it provided considerable insight into Peckinpah's unexpurgated hopes for the film.