Throughout the ’70s, Sean Connery seemed determined to undercut the dashing-hero image into which he’d been typecast following his ’60s success in the James Bond franchise. For example, consider this dark drama based on a British stage play by John Hopkins, who also penned the movie’s script. Instead of playing a righteous peacekeeper, Connery plays a monster with a badge—after his character, Detective-Sergeant Johnson, murders a suspect during a ferocious interrogation, the movie uses detailed flashbacks to explain what drove Johnson to violence. Despite this potentially explosive premise, The Offence is underwhelming. Obviously, an actor whose screen persona encompasses a broader emotional palette than Connery’s could have played the story’s textures with more precision—though it’s just as easy to imagine someone like, say, Richard Harris taking the characterization way over the top. So the problem isn’t necessarily rooted in Connery’s limitations. Surprisingly, the faulty X-factor might be director Sidney Lumet, who normally soared with this sort of narrative.
Here, Lumet skews too heavily toward the clinical side of his filmmaking approach, organizing actors and events so meticulously that the piece ends up feeling antiseptic. And, of course, one could easily question the source material itself, because Hopkins’ script is painfully talky. Although Hopkins was an experienced screenwriter with dozens of teleplays to his credit by the time he wrote The Offence—he’d also worked on a few features, including the dreary 007 epic Thunderball (1965)—Hopkins failed in the basic task of adaptation, which is converting strengths from one medium into qualities that suit another. As a text, The Offence is quite strong, with logically defined progressions and scientifically precise character details, but as a viewing experience, it’s dry and repetitive. Another shortcoming, of sorts, is the casting of Ian Bannen as the suspect. While a perfectly capable actor with a gift for playing twitchy nutters (see the 1971 thriller Fright), he’s not charismatic enough to counter Connery’s star power. As a result, neither lead performance explodes off the screen. This is an admirable movie on many levels, but it could and should have been more powerful. (Available as part of the MGM Limited Collection on Amazon.com)
The Offence: FUNKY