Film review by Jason Day of The Offence, the 1973 crime thriller about a UK police detective who kills a suspected child molester during an interrogation. Directed by Sidney Lumet.
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Detective Johnson (Sean Connery) has spent a generation interrogating some of the most disreputable elements of society. He’s burnt out and finally snaps when he questions Baxter (Ian Bannen), a suspected child molester who Johnson is more aligned to than he’d like to admit.
Review, by @Reelreviewer
He fell down the stairs, Sarge…
Fascinating and gripping look at old school British coppering, the ‘good’ ole pre-IPCC days when the rozzers could give you a thump just for back chatting and the complaint would mysteriously vanish.
The Offence looks at the days of rotary dial phones and index card filing systems and when paedophiles didn’t exist in the public consciousness.
Cheaply made (for less than £900k) and hardly released (it didn’t have its premiere in France until 2007), it is as bare and barren a movie as you can get.
From the seemingly never-ending opening, opaque, slow mo shots of police officers agitated by the alarm bells rung after Bannen’s death and the hazy fuzzy noises on the soundtrack, the theme is carried over to children singing at school in a strange, dulled fashion.
The settings and locations are likewise grim. A collection of grubby, inner city police station, council estates, comprehensive schools, subways. There’s no glamour at all, it’s all very cold and bleak, like a wound up Clockwork Orange.
Lumet and Connery would make up for the lack of artifice and box office the year after with the ridiculously pretty and witty Murder on the Orient Express.
The characters are appropriately listless. Connery and Merchant (on powerhouse form in a single scene. She was playwright Harold Pinter’s then wife) as his shrewish, nagging wife have a sexless marriage.
Connery had worked well with Lumet on two previous occasions (The Hill, 1965 and The Anderson Tapes, 1971) and the two were keen to work with each other again. Connery appreciated and responded well to Lumet’s straightforward direction and, Connery being the manly screen presence he was, goes on to give a blistering performance as someone on the edge. God knows what, but he’s about to fall into it. A man who talks with his fists, his interactions with every other character bristle with bitterness, anger and self-loathing.
We see in this film why Connery was so much more than a man who once played James Bond.
The supporting police officers are blank, functional crowd fodder. Howard, as the senior officer investigating Bannen’s death, has a whiff of individuality about him. He swiftly cottons on that Connery, mired in the filth of the scum he has questioned over the years, has absorbed some of their characteristics and is now acting on them.
The best performance comes from Bannen who is terrific and (perversely) entertaining as the slippery and smiling suspected kiddy toucher Baxter. Obviously odd, he pricks Connery’s personality and dark demons during their fevered, violent conversations, hinting at the monster that lies underneath. Connery is the toxic element in their scenes together and not Bannen, who is all charm and humour.
A cultured, refined, amusant paedo. The 70’s really were an innocent time, for children and adults.
Cast & credits
Director: Sidney Lumet. 1 hr 52 mins/112 mins. Tantallon/United Artists. (15).
Producer: Denis O’Dell.
Writer: John Hopkins.
Camera: Gerry Fisher.
Music: Harrison Birtwistle.
Sets: John Clark.
Sean Connery, Trevor Howard, Vivien Merchant, Ian Bannen, Peter Bowles, Derek Newark, Ronald Radd, John Hallam.