C.I.A. boss Maxwell Danforth (Burt Lancaster) is a ruthless man, and he now has his sights set on a shadowy spy organisation known only as Omega as a way to gain a dangerous amount of power. He gets Fassett (John Hurt), an agent whose wife Danforth had ordered killed, to set up a plan to bring in investigative television journalist John Tanner (Rutger Hauer) to expose one of his three friends from his college days, all of whom have links to Omega, so that the C.I.A. can ostensibly turn them around and make a double agent out of them. Tanner will need quite some convincing that his friends are a danger to his beloved U.S.A., and so Fassett employs the help of extensive surveillance equipment - they say the camera never lies, after all...
This convoluted spy caper was based on the novel by Robert Ludlum, adapted by Ian Masters and scripted by Alan Sharp, and was the last film of its director, Sam Peckinpah, who had not directed a film since Convoy five years previously. It would be nice to say that Peckinpah left us with one real gem, but The Osterman Weekend is so wrapped up in a plot that deliberately sets out to confuse that only those viewers prepared to pay the maximum attention to the deceptions and double crosses need bother watching. On the other hand, even those who do admit defeat when faced with the labyrinth that is the storyline can take pleasure in the black comedy and pervasive air of paranoia that is conjured up.
Using secretly filmed footage of Tanner's friends, Fassett shows them apparently meeting with K.G.B. agents and making deals to overthrow the U.S. government. But only when Tanner meets Danforth face to face is he convinced, and agrees to invite his friends around to his retreat in the country for a weekend of leisure - and try to persuade one of the Omega team to take up the cause of the C.I.A. Tanner doesn't want his wife (Meg Foster) and young son around when the weekend is taking place, and drives them to the airport.
Suddenly, while Tanner is distracted, an assailant knocks his wife and son out with gas and drives off with them in Tanner's car. The action sequence which follows sums up the tone, as we don't know if the kidnapper works for Omega, or if he is in league with Danforth. Or is a vengeful Fassett behind the incident? Conveniently, the kidnapper is shot dead by Fassett's men from a helicopter, further muddying the real truth. Fassett says later on that the truth is a lie that hasn't been found out yet, and there's plenty to be exposed before the weekend is over.
Who's pulling the strings? The men behind the plotting will have the people they deceive believe anything as long as it furthers their cause, whether it be the revenge of Fassett or Danforth's aspirations of power. Tanner finds himself cooking up his own personal deception before the close, as well, which sees an admonition to those who believe everything they see on television. Don't believe what the media tells you is the message here, as the images on the hidden cameras, many of which are set up in Tanner's home, are employed to further the more devious characters' version of events. There is a peculiar streak of dark wit running through The Osterman Weekend, which ranges from a dog's head in a fridge to Hurt's cleverly insinuating performance, and the action, full of slow motion shots of course, is exciting enough. But not everyone will have the patience to see the story through to the end. Music by Lalo Schifrin.
[The DVD has as special features a commentary with Peckinpah experts, an hour-and-a-quarter long documentary which becomes a tribute to the director, the trailer, and, making this an essential purchase for fans, Peckinpah's original cut of the film, which isn't in great shape, but is an interesting bonus.]
American writer and director, a hard-drinking, producer-hating maverick who was as much reviled as he was admired. After a spell in the armed forces, he moved into television with a succession of westerns, and graduated to film with The Deadly Companions and cult classic Ride the High Country. When he worked on Major Dundee, the problems started, and, as would happen many times subsequently, the film was recut against his wishes.