DT Moviehouse Review: The Offence

Time once more for my blog feature, DT Moviehouse Reviews, in which I make my way through my 200+ DVD/Blu-Ray collection (you can see the list right here) and decide if each one was worth the money. I was previously doing this alphabetically but decided, since I was watching some of these anyway, to review them out of order. Today I take a look at The Offence.

Directed by Sidney Lumet

Screenplay by John Hopkins

Tagline: After 20 Years, What Detective Sergeant Johnson Has Seen And Done Is Destroying Him.

poster

What It’s About:
British police Detective Sergeant Johnson (Sean Connery) beats a suspected child molester, Kenneth Baxter (Ian Bannen), to death in an interrogation room and is suspended. Through a series of flashbacks, we learn the truth of what pushed him over the edge.2862866

Why I Bought It:

Forget his seminal James Bond, forget Ramius in The Hunt For Red October, forget Ramirez, forget William of Baskerville, Daniel Dravot, or Malone in The Untouchables; forget the innumerable charming, memorable characters in Sean Connery’s long career – this is his finest performance, though admittedly, it’s a difficult role to warm up to.

openingThis is Rashomon in one man’s mind; a story about the varying degrees of personal truth which are uncovered as a single desperate action plays out again and again; something that in the hands of a lesser team of creators might have been a simple character defining moment of righteous outrage, but gradually becomes something more tragic and renal. The Offence is a sharp character study that distills the totality of a man’s existence into the actions of one night, and does it masterfully.

We are introduced to Johnson in the interrogation room, beating an already bloody suspect, kicking the chair out from under him as he tries to collapse into it, and letting him fall as his fellow officers burst into the room. Johnson is a man who has just leapt over a personal precipice, and for the rest of the runtime, we follow his rapid psychological descent. Johnson is a cop who has exposed himself again and again to the very worst society has to offer. He is a monster, but Connery makes him a not an entirely unsympathetic one.

In the first of three flashbacks, we backtrack to what has brought him to this dark place. When a fourteen year old girl turns up missing (the latest in a string of child abductions and molestations), Johnson seems to take the case as a personal affront, and pursues it with furious determination. As part of a police search party, he personally discovers the missing girl, Janie Edmunds (Maxine Gordon) cowering in the woods at night.

critique-the-offence-lumet6She is hysterical, and obviously in physical distress. Johnson restrains her. There’s something in Johnson’s treatment of the girl that’s unseemly. His attempt at calming her almost plays like a molestation itself. He exerts his formidable bulk to straddle her, hold her down. He clamps his hand over her mouth to stifle her shrieking, but finally softens and wraps her in his coat.

During the ambulance ride, he attempts to question her, but she begins to wail about her pain. Johnson asks the paramedic to hold off sedating her so he can question her, but the man shoots him a disapproving look and does so anyway.

Arriving at the police station, he finds an elderly female witness giving her statement. When he learns the woman saw Janie with a stranger out in the field a full four hours earlier, he flies into a rage and storms into the interrogation room, where the inspector has decided to let the suspect they’ve just picked up, Baxter, a man with muddy clothes and thin bloody scratches on his forehead, cool in the stir.

Johnson returns, dismissing the uniformed guard on duty, and the beating plays out again.

We next see the aftermath, as Johnson is suspended and sent home.

offenceDuring the drive, Lumet gives us our first visual cues as to Johnson’s mental state, as he imagines a series of heinous, unconnected crime scenes apparently spanning his career from a beat cop on up to detective. He pictures various bloody, beaten women, a man with his head through a windshield, a rotting corpse hanging from a tree, the bloody arm of a mewling toddler protruding from a crib, and a man apparently being pitched off the roof of a building (possibly by Johnson himself).

He returns home to his put upon wife (Vivien Merchant, in an understated, but noteworthy performance), and begins to drink, though he laments that each drink seems to make him more sober, and indeed, more brutally honest and self-reflective. He confesses to her his crime, then berates her for not being beautiful, for not listening, for not being something good he could come home to. Finally, when she begs him to let her in, to share his woes with her, he launches into a heinous litany of atrocities so terrible she excuses herself and vomits.

This sets Johnson off into an increasingly incoherent tirade that begins with her not being able to simply listen to him, to accusations that she would rather make love to Baxter, all while the scene of his discovery of Janie replays in his mind, yet slightly altered, where he seems to be caressing her face and ravishing her.

The police arrive at his flat to inform him that Baxter has died, and he must now be questioned by the Superintendent (Trevor Howard).

The Superintendent questions Johnson about the incident in the interrogation room, and gradually taps into his broken state of mind. Johnson is baffled as to how his superior managed to keep his personal life separate from the things he’s done and witnessed.

theoffence4The beating plays out in full now, from Johnson’s attempt at coercing Baxter into a confession, to the realization that Baxter lures him into, which ultimately sets him off. He has pursued this crime with such an extreme level of violence that it points to self-hatred.

“Nothing I have done can be one half as bad as the thoughts in your head,” says a bloodied, gloating, impish looking Baxter, who is probably guilty of the rape of Janie, though it is never discovered for certain. “Don’t beat me for thoughts in your head – things you want to do.”

Johnson, in a moment of extreme weakness, collapses against his prisoner and says miserably;

f669e-the-offence-sidney-lumet-1972-l-hod3ch“I can’t stop thinking. Help me.”

When Baxter laughs and calls him pathetic, Johnson unleashes all his pent up frustration and rage, even striking at his fellow policemen when they enter and attempt to take him into custody. Like a wild animal he shakes them off, and stands as they stare up at him, agape, the fluorescent lights flickering.

“It makes me sick what you did,” says the Superintendent in the present time. “And what you are turns my stomach.”

“Everything I’ve ever felt. Ever wanted to feel,” Johnson confesses. “I had to hit him again.”

This movie was based on a stage play by John Hopkins, and was part of the bribe Connery demanded of the studio to return as Bond in Diamonds Are Forever, a role he had grown tired of by then. The studio agreed to produce two movies under a million dollars for Connery’s production company, but I believe The Offence, shot for about 385,000 pounds, so underperformed that the studio reneged.

tumblr_p5nbvmxLvx1vei2veo3_1280Lumet directs everything with minimum interference, lending the whole production that stark, 70’s verite style, well-suited to the subject matter. The flashbacks to the titular offence seem to be depicted in steadily clearer focus though, as the initial sequence plays out against some kind of soft spot on the lens, or a superimposition of a ceiling light that produces a weird, mersmeric, unfocused effect.

As I said, the thing really that makes The Offence worth seeing is Connery’s total commitment to the engrossing subject matter. This is not his typical movie star fare, but for my money, it’s his greatest performance in a lifetime of great performances.

Best Dialogue/Line:

“All those bodies. Bodies stinking swollen black putrid with the smell of death. Shattered, splintered bones. Like filthy swirling maggots in my mind. Eating my mind.”

Best Scene:

critique-the-offence-lumet17

In my opinion, the scene from which the above dialogue is culled; that somber, brutal scene where Johnson tries to force an emotional connection with his wife. Both actors are stellar in it, and it’s actually more cringe inducing than any of the physical violence depicted in the rest of the movie.

Would I Buy It Again:
It’s dark stuff, and not something I watch often, but it’s worth seeing Connery in a rare, nuanced performance, so yes.

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