The Osterman Weekend 1989 ****


It must be something of a surprise to those who knew the late actor Rutger Hauer to read obituaries like this ( which show almost no knowledge of the man or his films. Hauer came to prominence as a cinema actor of phenomenal power, working on a series of collaborations with Dutch auteur Paul Verhoeven such as Turkish Delight and Soldier of Orange, both of which are covered elsewhere in this blog. His celebrated turn in The Legend of the Holy Drinker is probably his most mature work, but the stardom that he gained from villianous turns opposite Sylvester Stallone in Nighthawks or in The Hitcher made him a bankable enough name to get him a role in Sam Peckinpah’s final film The Osterman Weekend. Adapted from Robert  “Bourne Identity” Ludlum’s book, it’s a Big Brother-type story of various espionage agents holed up in a remote house where micro-surveillance systems have been employed. Hauer plays tv journalist John Tanner, who is being manipulated at arms length by CIA chief Maxwell Danforth. It’s one of Hauer’s most substantial roles, with an ahead-of-its-time conceit and great support from John Hurt, Dennis Hopper and Craig T Nelson. The script is a little muddled, with writer Alan Sharp amongst those fighting Peckinpah’s famed desire for self-sabotage. That none of the above films get even a single mention in the above obituary suggests that Peckinpah’s pessimism was justified ; The Osterman Weekend nails the idea of media manipulation, and its concerns are still relevant today.


The Killer Elite 1975 ***

Sam Peckinpah’s career peaked with The Wild Bunch; while his later films display flashes of genius, his greatest work was probably in the late 1960’s. By 1975, alcohol and drugs were catching up with him, and the opportunity to direct a studio film like The Killer Elite came with conditions. Those expecting an over-the-top bloody spectacle will be disappointed, but there’s still meat on the bones. James Caan models a terrific wardrobe of turtle-neck sweaters and suede jackets as Mike, a CIA operative who is double-crossed by his partner George (Robert Duvall). George shoots Mike in the knee, retiring his friend, but Mike goes through a long and painful rehabilitation process and eventually puts together a team to seek revenge. The same year as French Connection II, The Killer Elite switches focus to cover the long route back that a driven individual might take; Caan does well with the physicality, and Peckinpah’s downbeat word-view is a good fit for the bigger-picture plotline about CIA departmental rivalry. The Killer Elite has never looked better than in Amazon’s spanking print; the finale on the deck of the Reserve Fleet in California is crisp and clear even when the switching of allegiances isn’t.

Mud 2013 ***


Matthew McConaughey took a while to extricate himself from the morass of celebrity and rom-com stardom to assert himself as a star, but his magnetism gets a thorough workout in this slow-burning melodrama from writer/director Jeff Nichols. Two young boys discover a boat in a tree near the banks of a river in Arkansas. Inside is Mud (McConaughey), an ex-con hoping to refurbish the boat and set sail once he’s reconnected with his sweetheart (Reece Witherspoon). The boys are enlisted to help make that connection is a story described by Nichols as combining Mark Twain with Sam Peckinpah. Great support from Sam Shepard, Michael Shannon and Joe Don Baker, but it’s McConaughey’s film, giving him the kind of careworn hero status that recalls Paul Newman at his best.

Convoy 1978 ***


Sam Peckinpah’s breezy contribution to the CB radio and truck fad of the late seventies is supposedly an adaptation of CW McCall’s hit song, with Kris Kristofferson’s Rubber Duck and his moll Melissa (Ali McGraw) leading a convoy in defiance of Sherriff ‘Cottonmouth’ Wallace (Ernest Borgnine). If Peckinpah doesn’t seem entirely at home with the material, he still manages to create a series of incredible stunts, filmed in slow-motion and delivering on the action premise. The result was a big hit in Russia, where the notion of a ‘worker’s revolt’ against the authorities went down well with the regime at the time.

Cross Of Iron 1977 ***


Julius J Epstein (Casablanca) was amongst the writers for Sam Peckinpah’s adult drama set in the dying days of the Eastern Front during WWII. James Coburn’s war-weary Sgt Steiner stands up against Captain Hauptmann (Maximilian Schell), with James Mason and David Warner watching from the side-lines. Adapted from the book The Willing Flesh by Willi Heinrich, Peckinpah’s film has plenty of gritty tank, snow and mud action, balanced against some articulate discussion of the motivations for war.  Steiner returned in a sequel, Breakthrough, as played by Richard Burton, but Coburn makes the role his own in this bitter, accomplished anti-war film.