Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Offence (1972)



          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 precisionthough 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

2 comments:

Bonnie Kidd said...

This movie sold us gritty realism and a plausible story line right up until the final flashbacks, beginning with the confrontation between Ian Banned and Sean Connery. At that point, the film bogged down in literary, psychoanalytic theory and ditched its realistic tone. Connery's cop actually broke down and begged the subject he was interrogating to "help" him with his own inner demons. As if any real cop would do this!!! And he beat the subject to death because the subject correctly identified some of the cop's own fantasies. In reality, no conversation between cop and subject would enter this territory. Nor would other cops leave a subject alone with a brother who was slowly losing his grip, which the other cops noticed and remarked on. A very unfortunate ending to an engrossing film--C+ from me. Lumet got literary fiction, psychoanalysis, and movie-making all mixed up.

Dale said...

I've never had the opportunity to ask police what they would or wouldn't do. I do know others who have seen them do things that amount to war crimes. Some of them are dead now.