Film Review: The Offence (1973)



In early 1970s Sean Connery was working very hard to distance himself and his career from the role of James Bond as much as possible. Thus he became involved in series of projects that were unconventional and risky, of which is probably the best known his bizarre role in John Boorman's Zardoz. Some of those projects sank into obscurity, sometimes with good and sometimes without good reason. The Offence, 1973 crime drama directed by Sidney Lumet, belongs to the latter category.

The plot, based on the stage play This Story of Yours by British writer John Hopkins, begins with the shocking event in English police station. Police detective Johnson (played by Connery), while interrogating suspected child molester Kenneth Baxter (played by Ian Bannen), apparently loses self-control and severely beats the suspect, sending him to hospital with life-threatening injuries. Johnson, after spending the night at home with his long-suffering wife Maureen (played by Vivien Merchant), is next morning informed about Baxter's death and called the station, where he is interrogated by senior police detective Cartwright (played by Trevor Howard). In flashback, Johnson remembers not only traumatic images of rape, murder and other crimes that had accumulated during twenty years of his career, but also the fatal interrogation itself during which the suspect apparently tried to manipulate his interrogator.

Relative obscurity of The Offence can be explained with the early 1970s audience not accepting one of their silver screen icons playing rather unpleasant character in a very unpleasant film about some disturbing and most unpleasant subjects. Those with more open mind would, however, be rewarded with an actor in his prime skilfully dealing with complex character in what could be described as one of the finest performances of his career. On paper, Johnson is strong macho policeman who just went a little too far in his noble mission to protect the society from monsters; what he did is exactly what many people would like to do to rapists and child molesters if they ever have a chance. What Connery delivers on screen, however, is something quite different – a deeply traumatised man whose psychological wounds not only threw him over the edge by also to be consumed by the very abyss of evil he had been facing. In this, Connery is aided by top British acting talent, most notably by Ian Bannen who delivers another strong performance. His character, whose guilt or innocence remains ambiguous until the end, convincingly goes through transformations between pathetic weakling and skilful psychopathic manipulator.

Some might complain that the basic concept of The Offence looks dated these days, when, due to omnipresent cameras, is highly unlikely that someone, at least in the First World countries, could be killed during official police interrogation. When The Offence shows its age, it is, ironically, due to direction of Sidney Lumet, film-maker whose best works dealt with intense psychological dramas and issues of police corruption. His direction, especially in the opening segment that portrays the shocking beginning, shows too much influence of French New Wave and some of the editing choices looks more annoying than "artsy". Lumet in his later, much better films, returned to no-nonsense and more conventional approach. The Offence, however, represents rewarding experience to the audience who is, just like Connery, willing to take some risks.

RATING: 6/10 (++)

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