Ahead of its time - brilliant, entertaining, insightful5/10
When this movie originally came out, five years after CONVOY (a muddled, but in many ways spectacular entertainment), many critics moaned that Peckinpah had yet again displayed his diminished talent. A Ludlum spy thriller, pulp material, given the Peckinpah stamp was not to be taken seriously, period. What nonsense. To begin with, all of Peckinpah's films spring from pulp, and all of them, even the least successful ones, buck and spin with the way Sam applies his vision to the genre conventions he's messing with.
In simple terms, a Peckinpah movie always illustrates the world according to Sam; like a novelist writing in first person, Sam's point of view is the movie's. And that's why they endure today. In THE OSTERMAN WEEKEND, Peckinpah focuses Ludlum's cold war spy antics into a exploration of urban paranoia and governmental abuse. Video as a means to manipulate perception is one of the themes he exploits here, but that's not his main thrust. A group of affluent characters come together for a weekend that turns into a surreal nightmare. The trappings of success that surround this group are not in any way secure enough to withstand the violent, reckless games played on them by a rouge CIA agent (played by John Hurt) who's motive is personal revenge. And that motive, the revenge that fuels his need, in actual fact, has absolutely nothing to do with the affluent group he's playing with. Like the gods in Greek tragedy, the Hurt character uses the Osterman Weekend and its players as pawns, stepping stones, as a way to get at his real goal, the head of the CIA. This notion obviously strikes a chord in Peckinpah; the vision is certainly domestic, but the idea is epic: in the privacy of our homes a kind of virus colors our perceptions and poisons friendships, creates anarchy, and causes death. And the virus - where does it come from? Our own back yard - the CIA.
The film is charged with a constant underlying tension that holds and holds until all hell breaks loose and the affluent house becomes a battle ground. Visually, the movie is stunning. But then, so was CONVOY, but this time Peckinpah has harnessed what he shows and what he wants to say in a simple, tightly wound spy thriller package, Watching the movie today, it's hard to believe that some of the notions that seemed more like the paranoiac mechanics of a potboiler in 1983 have actually come true and don't seem quite as far fetched. By all accounts, Sam Peckinpah was a terribly difficult man, but he was also a visionary film maker who's work gets better and better as the years pass. THE OSTERMAN WEEKEND is not the bad film critics at the time bitched about, and it's not the sad conclusion to a career that started out brimming with possibility. It's a splendid, brilliant - better than brilliant - work of American art by a true American artist: a giant. The world according to Sam is a world that will be looked at a hundred years from now; it will inspire debate, continual analysis, and be ranked with the major artist of the entire 20th century. By 1983,Peckinpah's health may have diminished, but as a film maker he was still powerful and strong as hell.