The Offence (1972) – An overlooked Sidney Lumet gem

 

Director Sidney Lumet is most well-known for his intense American crime classics such as Dog Day Afternoon, Serpico ,12 Angry Men and Prince of the City (which I found to be better than Serpico). But before all that, he had been involved in some notable British productions as well. They were The Hill, The Deadly Affair, The Offence and Murder on the Orient Express. One of the most overlooked of the bunch is The Offence, a brilliantly realized and disturbing psychological thriller. It was one of the few films that revealed to us the real actor inside Sean Connery. Up until that point, he was busy making the James Bond films and none of those films provided him any opportunity to showcase his real acting skills. I guess Lumet should be given the credit for recognizing his true potential.

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In order to not spoil the story, I’ll give the briefest possible synopsis I can. It follows a volatile British cop named Johnson who is assigned to a child kidnapping case. Three missing children have been murdered and the police expect another one to happen very soon and hopes to apprehend the killer immediately. When a young girl goes missing, a search party is set up. Johnson finds the missing girl alive, but abused. During the manhunt, the police come across a suspect named Kenneth Baxter and he is brought into the station for questioning. Johnson intervenes and persuades his colleagues to let him question Baxter. Something happens in the middle of the interrogation (which I won’t reveal) and we learn that Johnson has beaten the suspect to death.

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The Offence follows a non-linear narrative with scenes switching back and forth. It starts with a hazy, dream-like opening sequence in slow motion that shows the interior of a police station and few cops running toward an interrogation room. We are not sure what’s happening and this is followed by a scene of Connery’s character standing in the middle of the room and exclaiming: “My God….what have I done?” This sequence got me hooked. I was very impressed by the technique Lumet utilized to begin the film.  A sense of ambiguity permeates the whole film. Nothing is revealed to us immediately. I was surprised to see Connery in a role like this. I mean, this is a man who played James Bond, for crying out loud. So, seeing him play a psychologically tormented character completely caught me off guard.

Ian Bannen The Offence

The cold and grim look of the film helps in establishing a chilling atmosphere. The disorienting narrative structure plays with our mind and keeps us guessing throughout. Connery does a very convincing job playing Johnson. Like I said earlier, I was surprised at the actor’s range. He should’ve done more films like this. Also, Ian Bannen (who plays Kenneth Baxter) is so good that you almost feel the same disgust and anger that Johnson feels. It’s a pity the film was largely ignored by the audience when it came out. Perhaps they didn’t like the idea of seeing the former James Bond in a role like this or perhaps it made them uneasy. Anyway, it proved to be a uniquely rewarding experience for me. After I saw it, I was so blown away that I even went and told my mother (who knows nothing about cinema) about it. Yeah, it was that good.

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