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The host of an investigative news show is convinced by the CIA that the friends he has invited to a weekend in the country are engaged in a conspiracy that threatens national security in this adaptation of the Robert Ludlum novel. Written by
Keith Loh <email@example.com>
It's Sam Peckinpah's last film, and as a fan of this brilliant, troubled man, I wanted it to be a good one to go out on. What I got instead is another of his problem pictures, an interesting premise and eye-raising performances done in by a loss of focus.
John Tanner (Rutger Hauer) is a TV interviewer given an unpleasant assignment by CIA operative Lawrence Fassett (John Hurt): Confront a group of college friends with evidence they are working for a KGB operative named Mikalovich. An array of videotapes provided by Fassett demonstrates their culpability to Tanner. So he sets to work, his home the setting for a prearranged weekend gathering. If it works, a live interview with CIA Director Maxwell Danforth (Burt Lancaster) will be his reward.
For Peckinpah, it was his first film in more than half-a-decade, and a chance to show he was still able to deliver a solid action film well after his gritty early-'70s peak. The CIA comes equipped with cool surveillance equipment and laser-sighted automatics. The Weekend itself, once it gets going, has a nice "Big Chill" vibe with paranoid undertones.
So what goes wrong?
It starts with a 40-minute intro that establishes the premise in clunky fashion. "I'm Cloak, you must be Dagger" Tanner says upon meeting Danforth, whom Lancaster plays with brio but not subtlety. "Being wrong is not nearly as important as not admitting it, not these days," he tells one Company weasel, and acts throughout as the kind of clod you wouldn't put in charge of a shoe store, let alone the CIA.
Then we get to the Weekend itself, with Tanner's college friends taking center stage. Each has their quirks. Osterman (Craig T. Nelson) is a very cool TV producer who describes himself as "a nihilistic anarchist who lives on residuals". Nelson is great fun, though the rest of the group, including Dennis Hopper, gets lost in the mix. Only Helen Shaver's turn as a coked-out floozy stands out, as much for her gratuitous nude scenes as for her entertaining freak outs.
Sappy lite-jazz music by Lalo Schifrin underscores a lack of suspense. Hauer's Dutch accent keeps creeping in like Nastassja Kinski's, and his fragile relationship with his bow-toting wife (Meg Foster) isn't developed any more than those with his once-merry, now-sullen Berkeley chums.
The actual jigsaw puzzle we get here is indifferently assembled and seems at end a few pieces short. At one point Tanner hears Osterman on tape tell his friends "Let's go to our friend John Tanner's house and set him up". Tanner doesn't take this kindly, reasonably enough, yet what Osterman may have meant is never explained. A lot of threads are pulled out this way only to be left floating in the breeze.
John Coquillon's cinematography does capture something the rest of the film flails at, a sense of mystery and foreboding. Hurt's tortured performance as Fassett is nicely underplayed, watching beady-eyed between sips of wine from a china cup as the gears shift into play. And Nelson does crack me up, as in one scene which finds him running for cover.
"It'd be nice if we had weapons!"
"We do!" he is told. "Bows!"
"Bows?" Osterman replies. "That's keen!"
In the end, we get a wrap-up lecture about the pervading influence of television and how this all was, as one character puts it, "just another episode in this snuff soap opera we're all in." Peckinpah supposedly hated this script, only using it because he needed the film, but I think those sad words represent his actual mindset all-too-well. Distrait, somewhat lethargic, and depressing, "The Osterman Weekend" gives us lots of clues but no answers as to where Sam fell off.
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