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The head of the CIA, Maxwell Danforth (Burt Lancaster), convinces influential TV talk show host, John Tanner (Rutger Hauer), that the three friends he has invited to stay for the weekend are in fact Russian agents. Under the auspices of cunning operative Lawrence Fassett (John Hurt), the agency installs extensive surveillance equipment all over the house, but the guests who notice a change in Tanner's behaviour grow increasingly suspicious. As tensions rise and tempers fray, Tanner learns that Danforth and Fassett have separate agendas. Danforth has his head set on the White House; Fassett has a yen for revenge and Tanner's wife and child could be caught in the crossfire.

Review by Keith Lofthouse:
British historian David Thomson wrote that Sam Peckinpah was a man "in brazen pursuit of his own fantasies...a very dangerous man, because he could be so damn good." At the same time, Peckinpah could also slip to the other end of the spectrum. He did not direct The Good, The Bad And The Ugly, but those words help sum-up The Wild Bunch, Convoy and Straw Dogs and perhaps his entire career. Peckinpah drank too much and might have invented the term "substance abuse." Dead at 59, he was a man committed to self-destruction and was well and truly on the skids when asked to make a "comeback" five years after the execrable Convoy. Still fighting with producers, still bucking the budget and always the maverick, Peckinpah did not cover himself with glory on his final film but in some aspects Osterman was ahead of its time.

Adapted from the Robert Ludlum bestseller, which John Hurt sniped at as "no great piece of literature," the film's revenge motif is shrouded in themes of distrust and paranoia and in the Big Brother era is now seen as a forewarning of the intrusive, pervasive and invasive powers of television. When the CIA invades Tanner's home (it was actually actor Robert Taylor's former mansion) surveillance cameras are placed in every nook and cranny, ostensibly to catch a spook. Fassett, the betrayed agent who never recovered from his wife's murder, is like a puppeteer but instead of pulling strings he is clicking the video switches from swimming pool to kitchen to bedroom...and other bedrooms...ogling as the doctor (Denis Hopper) dotes on his cocaine-snorting wife and grinning when the hot-headed financier (Chris Sarandon) fails to satisfy his. One begins to suspect that Fassett's motives are more sinister than mere spy-catching ...an extension of Peckinpah's blatant voyeurism in which boobs are displayed in the bedroom, in the bath-tub and in the swimming pool.

Always the merciless misogynist, Peckinpah's women are all hard-party harpies ... except for the luminescent-eyed Meg Foster who performs at least one heroic act as Mrs Tanner. The screenplay contains some pearlers of ambiguity, including "the truth is a lie that hasn't been found out" but the confusion itself is pervasive. No-one explains the dog-head in the fridge (though we suspect who is to blame) and a plaintive cry of "would someone please tell me what's going on" seems more than appropriate.

The problem is Ludlum, always the Walt Disney of thriller writers, whose characters often equate to Donald Duck (gullible), Uncle Scrooge (greedy) or to Gyro Gearloose (brilliant, eccentric) and are just as believable. But one wonders why the director burdened the mysterious Osterman (Craig T. Nelson) with a fake moustache that seems to change shape and colour in every frame. Nelson was never happy with it, he reveals in Exposing The Osterman, an 80 minute companion piece to the main feature which is essential viewing for head-scratchers.

Published September 15, 2005

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(US, 1983)

CAST: Rutger Hauer, Dennis Hopper, Burt Lancaster, John Hurt

DIRECTOR: Sam Peckinpah

SCRIPT: Alan Sharp (based on the book by Robert Ludlum)

RUNNING TIME: 103 minutes

PRESENTATION: Aspect ratio 16:9. Language: English

SPECIAL FEATURES: Disc One. Deleted scenes; trailer. Commentary by authors of All Things Peckinpah. Disc Two: Exposing The Osterman Weekend


DVD RELEASE: July 6, 2005

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