Director: Sidney Lumet
Screenplay: John Hopkins
Based on a Play by: John Hopkins
Starring: Sean Connery, Trevor Howard, Ian Bannen, Vivien Merchant
Running Time: 112 min
BBFC Certificate: 15
Sidney Lumet was responsible for a handful of cast iron classics. His debut feature 12 Angry Men and several films he made in the 70's (Dog Day Afternoon, Network and Serpico) are all considered some of the finest films ever made. If you look on the IMDb though you'll see he has an astonishing 73 directing credits to his name. Granted the first 20 or so are TV shows, but he's still got quite a large volume of work under his belt. Because of this, he has made a huge number of films that have been forgotten over the years despite his pedigree. Some were probably forgotten for good reason (Gloria for instance), but I imagine there are a good few gems lurking in there waiting to be discovered. It's that thinking that got me excited about checking out The Offence, which is being re-released on dual format Blu-Ray and DVD as part of Eureka's superb Masters of Cinema series.
The Offence stars the legend that is Sean Connery as Detective Sergeant Johnson, who is part of a team of policemen on the hunt for a child molester in an English suburb. Shortly after a fourth victim is found, a suspect is brought in for questioning. The slightly fey Kenneth Baxter (Ian Bannen) is this suspect, who gives nothing to the police detectives who question him. Johnson, who is hell bent on catching the deviant and plagued with memories of previous cases, is convinced Baxter is his man though and locks himself in the interrogation room with him to knock out the truth. He knocks too hard though and beats the man possibly to death. Johnson himself becomes the offender at this point and the spotlight is turned on him and his demons.
My opinion on this film veered this way and that, and after reading a couple of other reviews (not something I generally practise) I seem to have the opposite opinion to everyone else, so please don't take my thoughts as gospel.
I watched the film in two halves (again something I rarely do, but my daughter woke up from her nap earlier than expected) and I left the first half thinking the film was fantastic. A very slow burn police procedural kind of affair with a strong sense of naturalism and a grim, bleak tone – this was my kind of film. However, in the second half, where the film becomes more stagey (it's based on a play after all), I was less impressed. This section of the film focusses on three long duologues, one between Johnson and his wife Maureen (Vivien Merchant), another between him and his Lieutenant (Trevor Howard) and the final one flashing back to him speaking with Baxter.
These one-to-one scenes are fascinating due to the situations, as is the film in general, but they felt a little overblown and overwritten in my eyes. The inner turmoil of Johnson is spelt out a little too blatantly for my tastes and although the performances are strong, they felt a little too BIG at times. Connery falls victim to this from time to time, although generally it's an impressive turn as he shuns his suave Bond persona to create a genuinely unpleasant protagonist. He may be the one chasing a monster, but he is horrible to his long suffering wife, unsupportive and rude to his colleagues and of course unnecessarily violent to the man only suspected of committing a crime (the film never quite says for certain that he did it). In one of the interviews included on this disc it's suggested that Connery told the Bond producers he'd only return to do Diamonds Are Forever if they would finance The Offence. So the actor was obviously keen to move on to more meaty and diverse roles.
But as brave a performance as Connery delivered, those key scenes (or at least the first two duologues) didn't quite work for me and turned me off the film a bit. Luckily, the final section with Baxter is much more effective and ends the film on a powerfully dark note. Again, maybe a little too much is spelled out and it smacks of the theatre, but it makes for gripping viewing even if you know exactly what's going to happen (glimpses of the scene are shown at the start of the film).
It's a film I would encourage people to check out though. It's not an easy watch at all, given the subject matter and deliberately slow pace, but it contains a feast of food for thought and further proof of Lumet's skills behind the camera. On top of coaxing some fine (if occasionally a little over the top) performances out of his actors, the director crafts some effectively nightmarish flashback sequences and some purposefully drawn out scenes early on which brilliantly build the sense of dread and unease. So even if it's a little uneven, there is excellence within to make it worth your while.
The Offence is out now in the UK on dual format Blu-Ray & DVD, released by Eureka as part of their Masters of Cinema series. The picture has been nicely cleaned up. There is fairly heavy grain, but in the most natural, good old 70's film stock sense. As for the sound, I found it a little hard to make out some of the dialogue from time to time, but I think this is down to the nature of the film itself rather than the transfer.
For special features you get a handful of interviews. Unfortunately the late Sidney Lumet isn't present of course and neither is Connery, but stage director Christopher Morohan, assistant art airector Chris Burke, costume designer Evangeline Harrison and composer Sir Harrison Birtwistle all have their say to fill you in on the production. Burke's interview in particular is full of interesting tidbits and Harrison's is enjoyable gossipy.
As usual with Eureka's releases, you also get a booklet included with the discs which is jam packed with essays, stills and other such goodies.