Combustible Celluloid
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With: Rutger Hauer, John Hurt, Craig T. Nelson, Dennis Hopper, Burt Lancaster, Chris Sarandon, Meg Foster, Helen Shaver, Cassie Yates, Sandy McPeak, Christopher Starr
Written by: Alan Sharp, adaptation by Ian Masters, based on the novel by Robert Ludlum
Directed by: Sam Peckinpah
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 102
Date: 10/14/1983

The Osterman Weekend (1983)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Spy Times

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Many film directors earn reputations of being difficult, not getting along with financiers, having their work butchered, and putting up fights. Erich von Stroheim and Orson Welles come to mind; giant sized artists whose work could never be understood by those who supplied the cash. John Huston was a notorious hellraiser, so was Samuel Fuller. But the most explosive of all, the most self-destructive, had to have been Sam Peckinpah.

Aside from his television projects -- like the great Western series "The Rifleman" -- Peckinpah finished only 14 films in his career. He died in 1984 at the age of 59. After the disastrous 1978 film Convoy, Peckinpah had trouble finding work; he even stooped to directing music videos at the very end, and The Osterman Weekend was the only film he released during the last six years of his life. Of course, the studio butchered it, Peckinpah hollered, and critics treated it like a sick animal.

Thankfully, Anchor Bay has released the film in a new double-disc special edition, which gives us a second chance to really look at it, and despite some script contrivances, it finds Peckinpah high in the saddle again and full of the same old thunder and lightning.

Based on a Robert Ludlum novel (The Bourne Identity), The Osterman Weekend centers around extreme talk show host John Tanner (Rutger Hauer), who is approached by the CIA to spy on his friends during their annual weekend get-together. Through surveillance footage, the agent in charge (John Hurt) convinces Tanner that his friends are working for the Russians. They bug his house and stick him with the job of getting at least one of them to come clean, but other, more twisted plots are afoot.

Burt Lancaster co-stars as a slick, sinister Reagan-like politico (with traces of his Sweet Smell of Success character J.J. Hunsecker) in charge of the whole thing. Dennis Hopper, Craig T. Nelson and Chris Sarandon play the friends. (Strangely, all you'd have to do is replace the Reagan-ish character with a Bush-like character and exchange "Russians" for "Terrorists" and you'd have an eerily up-to-date flick.)

At first Peckinpah plays it straight, having fun with the voyeuristic nature of the assorted surveillance equipment, showing spies spying on other spies and back again, until the explosive climax rips across the screen with the same machine-gun ferocity shown in The Wild Bunch and Straw Dogs. This time even the girls get to have fun; Tanner's wife (Meg Foster) snatches up a bow and arrow to help out (her image was used on the poster and in the publicity stills).

Anchor Bay's superb letterboxed DVD comes with four audio mixes (Dolby Digital, DTS, Surround and original Mono) plus an audio commentary track with four Peckinpah scholars. The second disc comes with a VHS transfer of Peckinpah's original cut -- about ten minutes longer -- screened for audiences just once in 1983. It also includes a feature-length documentary, "From Alpha to Omega," Anchor Bay's usual excellent cast and crew biographies, the theatrical trailer and a still gallery.

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