The Offence (1972)

The Offence (1972)
  • Time: 112 min
  • Genre: Crime | Thriller | Drama
  • Director: Sidney Lumet
  • Cast: Sean Connery, Trevor Howard, Vivien Merchant


In Sidney Lumet’s harrowing portrayal of police brutality, Detective Sergeant Johnson has been with the British Police Force for 20 years. In that time, the countless murders, rapes and other serious crimes he has had to investigate has left a terrible mark on him. His anger and aggression that had been suppressed for years finally surfaces when interviewing a suspect, Baxter, whom Johnson is convinced is the man that has been carrying out a series of brutal attacks on young girls. Throughout the interview Johnson brutally beats Baxter and during this ordeal he inadvertently reveals that the state of his own mind is probably no better than that of the offenders who committed the crimes that disgusted Johnson originally.

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  • Sean Connery is more a superstar than an actor. Although his talents have been recognised by the Academy (for his rather unconvincing turn as an Irish cop in The Untouchables (1987)) and remembered for his role as the first James Bond, he is high up on his own pedestal, a gift for voice actors and one of the handsomest faces ever to have graced the screen. But anyone in doubt of his ability as a proper thespian need look no further than his grim, tormented portrayal of a cop who has seen one too many dead bodies in Sidney Lumet’s The Offence, a huge flop at the box office and a film now faded into memory, ripe for a re-discovery.

    Playing with time Rashomon (1950)-style, the film begins in slow motion, where an unknown disturbance at a police station has a few officers panicked. It is revealed to be Detective Sergeant Johnson (Connery) standing over the bloodied body of suspect Kenneth Baxter (Ian Bannen), with fellow police officers scattered on the floor. It then goes back, and we are in a grey, miserable city gripped in panic as a child-killing paedophile roams free. The latest disappearance of a young girl has Johnson riled, and officers cruising the street pick up Baxter, who is wandering alone in the night covered in mud. The young girl is found raped but alive by Johnson himself, who insists on spending some time alone with the suspect.

    Based on John Hopkins’ stage play This Story of Yours, Connery fought tooth-and-nail to adapt it for the big screen, eventually reprising his role as Bond in Diamond Are Forever (1971) in return for the green-light. Although the film consists of long, talky scenes, Lumet uses stylish editing in order to avoid being stagy and to delve further into his anti-hero’s head. His reputation as a no-nonsense director betrays him here, as scenes of gruesome murders, body parts, and a host of other atrocities Johnson has witnessed flash before our eyes. The use of slow motion in the flashback moments also employs a sort of circular filter at the centre of the screen, reflecting Johnson’s disconnection from his actions but getting slightly tiresome in the process.

    There are three long, outstanding scenes. The first is Johnson returning home to his wife (Vivien Merchant) following his interrogation of Baxter, drinking heavily and exploding at the one person who could possibly help him. The second is Johnson’s own interrogation with superintendent Cartwright (the ever-excellent Trevor Howard), a man who has witnessed the same level of horror himself, but has learnt to separate his work from his life, something Johnson is unable to do. The third is the extended interrogation of Baxter, where Bannen’s creepy turn surely must have been an inspiration for the Joker-Batman verbal showdown in The Dark Knight (2008). It’s incredibly bleak stuff, but the raw honesty of the script and performances makes this powerful stuff.

    Rating: 4/5

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