Saturday, 2 May 2009

The Offence

One of Sidney Lumet's most overlooked films, The Offence, his 1972 film is an intense pyschological drama about a cop's brutal treatment of a man suspected of being a serial child rapist. The cop so convinced of the man's guilt carries out an illegal interrogation and ends up killing him.

The film, an adaptation of a stage play, This Story Of Yours is less concerned with the question of the whodunnit, but the dynamic between Sean Connory's cop and Ian Bannen's suspect (both extraordinary). Rather than extract a confession out of the suspect, the cop betrays his own inner demons to his prisoner - his petty jealousies, his frustrations over a stalled career and a loveless marriage, and most damaging, his inability to subdue the horrors he's witnessed throughout his career (a sexualized murder of a woman is briefly seen in recurring flashbacks). When the suspect makes the cop face his demons head on, the cop short circuits and beats him to death.

Director Sidney Lumet brilliantly loosens the drama from its stagey origins by investing the film with a subtle experimental edge. The narrative refuses to conform to a conventional structure - the interrogation itself is saved for the last act of the film, after the audience has discovered the cop has murdered the suspect; while visually, the film, which begins outdoors among residential areas, turns inward with the action becoming increasingly confined to offices and rooms. There’s a kind of intentional visual blandness at work here, with the modern soulless architecture of the outdoor locations and the seemingly half-finished decor of the police station. All this lends the film a powerful alienating effect. In addition to the two leads and Lumet, special mention also for Vivien Merchant as the cop's exhausted wife, and a cameo by Trevor Howard as an internal affairs investigator.

The Offence was made fast and cheap, and apparently funded by UA as part of a deal for Connory's return to play Bond in Diamonds Are Forever. The film was something of a reunion for Lumet and the two leads. All three had worked previously on The Hill in 1965, and for Connory, The Offence would be his third of five films with Lumet (they being The Hill, The Anderson Tapes (1971), The Offence, Murder on the Orient Express (1974) and Family Business (1989)

The Offence is available from Optimum (and an OOP MGM) as a bare bones R2 DVD, the image is nothing stunning but a serviceable enough 1:66 non-anamorphic transfer. (Note! the OOP MGM disc is anamorphic!). The sound quality is fine and makes for a good representation for Harrison Birtwistle and Peter Zinovieff's brilliant experimental score. Highly recommended.


  1. Hey, wes,
    great review. this is actually also one of my favourites from the seventies. so overlooked! the cinematography especially is exceptional, almost experimental just like the score.

  2. Hey Barry, thanks a million for the comment. Yeah, its a great movie, I especially love that surreal opening sequence, so strange and dreamlike...

  3. Thanks, great review for this Wes. I love The Offence. The opening slow motion scene beginning on a ball of light is incredible. The lengthy scene when Connery returns home to his anguished wife in the strange modern flat is also powerful and painful to watch. But there are s many great images, the flashbacks, memories, and disturbed thoughts in Connery;s mind he shares with Ian Bannen... It's the only British film I think which truily captures the downbeat and grim atmosphere of English council estates and banal shopping precincts, and eerie 1970s offices which you have highlighted- and it was directed by an American. I agree, it is really experimental. A masterpiece.

  4. As a card carrying 007 nut, I enjoy just about any movie featuring any of The Six. I have not seen this one, but it's only a matter of time...

  5. Oh defintely see this Lumet Craig, Connory is quite loathsome in this one, playing a real bully - but his portrayal of the character and the changes the character goes through is pure take-your-breath-away brilliance...