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  • Benjamin May

The Offence (1973) Review

What happens when a cop is finally pushed over the edge? When all the depravity he's seen throughout his decades on the force, all the sick, violent images rolling around in his head inevitably become intolerable? In this adaptation of John Hopkins play 'This Story of Yours,' you'll see, and witness one of Sean Connery's finest pieces of acting, as well another cinematic triumph from director Sidney Lumet.

Connery stars as Detective Johnson, a tough-as-nails cop investigating the rape of a young child. It's routine for him, as he specializes in the violent and the brutal. He's been doing it for twenty years and has seen everything that can be seen. However, when confronted with a strange man- masterfully played by Ian Bannen- who was picked up near the crime scene, he snaps, cascading into a tangled web of memories, violence and insanity.

Connery and Lumet first joined forces for 1965's 'The Hill', a powerful, intriguing war drama set in a North African military prison. They then reteamed in 1971 on the slick crime caper 'The Anderson Tapes.' The two evidently enjoyed a positive experience working together, and for their third collaboration decided to try something a little darker and more abstract: 'The Offence.' (They made two more films, 1974's brilliant 'Murder on the Orient Express' and 'Family Business,' in 1989; but the less said about that mis-cast, unfunny crime comedy the better).

'The Offence' is a fascinating study about the effect of violence on one's mental state, a dark police procedural and a riveting drama all at once. Anchored by a career best Connery, the film moves at a brisk pace, rapidly establishing a paranoid, seedy atmosphere of psychological malfunction. John Victor Smith's tight editing is outstanding, and under Lumet's direction brings us some very frightening, expertly cut sequences.

In a long and varied career, this may be cinematographer Gerry Fisher's finest hour. Due to his composition and framing, scenes look and feel claustrophobic (whether indoors or out), which adds to the tense atmosphere running throughout the film. He captures the growing madness of Connery's character masterfully and has an artful touch when it comes to shooting scenes of violence that is striking and understated.

Connery has never disappeared inside a character as thoroughly as he does here (with the possible exception of Daniel Dravot in John Huston's 'The Man Who Would Be King'): never once can you spot him acting. His Detective Johnson is an unbalanced, frightened, occasionally cruel man who has seen too much violence in his life to continue on as normal. Memories of murder and mayhem overwhelm him, and Connery captures the PTSD-like effects the character experiences with great sympathy, depth and understanding- it's one of his finest on-screen performances.

The supporting cast is filled with talented actors- Trevor Howard has a small but meaty role, and Vivien Merchant steals her all too brief scene as Johnson's long-suffering wife Maureen- but Ian Bannen stands apart from the pack. As an odd character who may or may not be a child molester, he is slick and seedy; like a snake-oil salesman for the devil's brew. His scenes with Connery are some of the darkest and morally vague you're ever likely to see. His performance rivals Dennis Hopper's in 'Blue Velvet' as one of cinema's most entertaining and insidious creeps.

The film goes to some very sinister places, but never becomes painful to watch. The story is handled with care and intelligence- Hopkins's screenplay is just as powerful as his original theatrical production- and has some unforgettable moments. Lumet and Connery together were a force to be reckoned with, as this obsidian-dark, clever crime drama proves. It's a fantastic, well-written and devastatingly entertaining piece of filmmaking.


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