The Osterman Weekend (1983)

Rating: B-

Dir: Sam Peckinpah
Star: Rutger Hauer, John Hurt, Craig T. Nelson, Burt Lancaster

Peckinpah’s last film is something of a mindbender, and certainly not the fairly straightforward espionage flick I expected, coming from the author of the Bourne novels. CIA operative Fassett (Hurt) drops a bomb on patriotic TV host John Tanner (Hauer): the three friends who are about to visit his house for a couple of days, are KGB spies. Will he help his country by letting Fassett set up surveillance equipment in an operation to turn one of them into a double-agent? Tanner agrees, thinking he’ll have little more to do, only to find Fassett’s idea of his role is entirely less passive, and his friends are none too happy when they find out what’s going on either.

However, is everything quite what it seems? And what is the role of Tanner’s boss, Maxwell Danforth (Lancaster), in the operation? There are those who say this is a jumbled mess. Those people are probably right. However, this is also one of those cases where it still remains such an interesting effort; with its stabs at tabloid- or reality-TV, in some ways it was decades ahead of its time. The film gives Danforth a certain plausibility, since with one breath he gets the KGB to do his dirty work, then in the next, seeks to take down their espionage ring.

The slow-mo violence for which Peckinpah was famous gets a good workout here, not least in the film’s best sequence where Tanner and another character are pinned down in swimming pool, onto which someone is feverishly pouring gasoline. The producers recut the director’s final version; one suspects it would be a better film if they’d done more to it, or less. Instead, we have something that’s one good script and two good editors away from intelligible, yet remains far more thoughtful than what passes for a political thriller these days.