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Non-Review Review: The Offence

The Offence was reportedly one of the pictures that MGM agreed to fund for Sean Connery in order to get the veteran actor to sign on to reprise the role of James Bond in Diamonds Are Forever. While the film is too slow, methodical and restrained to really qualify as an undisputed classic, I do sleep just a little bit better for knowing that something good came from Connery signing on to play Bond once more. (Although, to be fair, he also donated his salary to charity, so that speaks to his character as well.)

Gripping drama...

Directed by Sidney Lumet, the film starts off rather slowly and dramatically. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with the first half of the film, but there’s not necessarily anything especially right about it either. The superb opening sequence shows us a quick glimpse of what has occurred, with Detective Johnson snapping and beating a suspect brutally. These shots are obscured by a special effect, and the silence hangs in the air. Indeed, we only see and hear things clearly as Johnson calms himself down, coming to his senses. It’s as if the Detective is coming to his senses again. “Oh God,” he mutters in the film’s opening lines, “Oh my God.”

The movie jumps back to give us context. It explains that Johnson is investigating a series of brutal rapes committed against young girls. It’s clear that the Detective, while trying to be a decent man (insisting on paying for his drinks, even as the publican offers them free) is on edge about something. Perhaps he’s been working cases like this too long. Perhaps he’s seen too much. Even his colleagues notice his obvious tension, especially when they finally manage to pick up a suspect. Johnson is practically foaming at the mouth as he attempts to convince his fellow officers that this is the predator that they are searching for. “Time was, I’d take your word,” another officer remarks. “Even you can make mistakes these days.”

It didn't floor me...

And boy does he make a big one. The film cuts to the aftermath of his brutal interrogation, as he faces the consequences of what he did and copes with the resulting nervous breakdown. However, these two segments ignore the very simple fact – the fact that is incredibly obvious to the audience from the very first line – that the really interesting bit happened in that interrogation room. As much as you may try to develop the events leading up to it, or the fallout that came afterwards, the audience knows that there’s a moment where Johnson snapped – and it occurred inside that interrogation room with that particular suspect.

Everything else feels like a distraction, because we’ve seen most of it before. The film is populated with observations about the horrifying things Johnson has seen in his career, and how the world can’t comprehend them. Sean Connery, in the daring lead role, does his best to make the material interesting and compelling – but there’s only so much an actor can do. There are good moments, in conversation with Johnson’s wife or the officer assigned to debrief him, but the problem is that these sequences feel more like pre- and post-script segments than part of the actual story.

Fair cop?

The real drama comes from putting Johnson in the room with his suspect. The story was originally written as a play, and I imagine that it worked significantly better in that format. Here, attempting to accommodate visual style with long conversations between characters feels slightly awkward… until the final third of the film brings us into the room with Johnson and the man he suspects of committing all these heinous crimes.

All of a sudden, the movie becomes gripping. Part of it is the fact that Ian Bannen makes for a great foil to Connery, but part of it is just that the writing is really clever. There’s nothing especially inventive about the script’s observations concerning the nature of cops and criminals, but it does give us some pretty profound food for thought. In fact, that scene (which does take up a significant amount of the runtime) is so effective that it makes the rest of the movie look even weaker by comparison.

Arresting drama?

In fairness, Connery and Bannen together on-screen makes a compelling argument for the film, one which perhaps offsets the pacing and narrative issues with the first two-thirds of the movie. And, to be frank, those sections aren’t bad – they just aren’t especially great. However, the climax of the movie is gripping and incredible and daring. It’s drama, dripping with the talent of those involved, and not afraid to raise a few disturbing questions for the audience to ponder as the credits roll.

It’s not among Lumet or Connery’s stronger films – as it isn’t consistent enough – but it’s still a challenging piece of cinema that is well worth your time.

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