“after 20 years, what Detective-Sergeant Johnson has seen and done is destroying him”
When I was a helluva lot younger than I am now I came across a film late one night hidden among the schedules. Strangely it starred the great Sean Connery which made me even more surpised that a film starring the biggest actor of our time could be hidden away with no fanfare so, intriged, I settled down for exactly what I wasnt sure. ‘The Offence’ finds two of Scotland’s greatest ever actors in a stripped-down, rough and tough little movie that pits his hard bitten veteren detective against the late Ian Bannen’s child molester suspect. The battle of wits between the two breaks only to look at the cop’s equally distressing marital life. Yes, a tough film to watch but incredible to marvel at the sheer power of Sean Connery’s performance as the driven yet ambivalent detective. Both Connery and Bannen are at their darkest best in this deeply disturbing film that examines exactly what men might be capable of doing if they are pushed to the edge.
“nothing I have done can be one half as bad as the thoughts in your head”
Somewhere just outside of London, 1973: Detective Sergeant Johnson (Sean Connery) is a burnt-out British police detective of some twenty years in the force and one of the lead detectives working towards the capture of a serial child molester who is menacing the satellite town which he calls home. Johnson is an abrasive man who is barely able to contain his simmering resentment towards his lack of promotion, the superiors whom he considers to be witless and a loveless marriage. His animosity towards the world is driven to breaking point when he crosses swords with Kenneth Baxter (Ian Bannen), a successful family man who becomes a suspect in the investigation. Over the course of one night, events come to a violent head whilst Baxter is in police custody; but what precipitated the violence? And what was the real motivation behind the offence?
‘The Offence’ is an important film for two reasons: Firstly, it was one of the first widely released theatrical films featuring a major star to deal with the subject of child molestation (and it’s consequences) in a popular medium; and secondly it is one of about three films where the audience is treated to the sight of Sean Connery ACTOR rather than Sean Connery MOVIE STAR. For my money, Connery , though a great actor he had, post-Bond, coasted through the majority of his career playing a caricature of his 007 persona and who only ever really got to flex his acting chops to the max in two films – ‘The Offence’ and ‘The Hill’, both of which were directed by the late, great Sidney Lumet. Personally speaking, this film pips ‘The Hill’ (which is similarly brilliant) to the post for me because Connery as an actor expresses a degree of emotional vulnerability and psychological fragility that we were never to see again. It’s fairly apparent that post-Bond, Connery was attempting to shrug off the cast typing of Ian Fleming’s character once and for all, and his bravery as an actor here is formidable. His thinning hairline is, for the first time in his career exposed to the world for all to see and the charismatic calmness and composure of Bond is nowhere to be seen beneath Johnson’s moustache, sheepskin jacket, hat and tirades of blunt accusations.
“in this room you discover something like the truth about yourself”
But there is far more to this film than just Connery’s performance. The screenplay, brilliantly adapted for the screen from the stage by John Hopkins, remains the most disturbingly brilliant examination of a man succumbing to what we would now call ‘post-traumatic stress disorder’ that has ever been committed to film. It is all the more impressive because it is told in a way in which the audience first observes the aftermath of the offence itself without context; then the context of the situation; and finally the devastatingly catastrophic interrogation that immediately precipitates the offence itself.
“why ain’t you beautiful? You’re not even pretty”
Lumet as a director perfectly captures the soullessness of England’s then burgeoning ‘satellite’ new towns – vast, monolithic, semi-industrialized estates of office buildings, clone homes, motorways and underpasses which were constructed in the home counties in order to house the overflow population of London – using a drab pallet of rainy greys, caustic strip lighting, and shadow.
No other film has ever rendered the experience of living in one of these towns so effectively. The movie took just one month to film, at the low cost of $1 million and despite this and excellent notices, it failed to make any profit for nine years, and went unreleased in several countries including the major market of France.
This troubling psychological thriller is the kind of film that, for the most part, just doesn’t get made any more by big budget studios that are more interested in pandering to the lowest common denominator in pursuit of big bucks than telling an original story. It’s intelligent, erudite, understated, subtle and profoundly disturbing. An extremely tough film to watch but just marvel at the sheer power of Connery’s performance as the driven yet ambivalent detective.
(you can watch The Offence below. If the link goes down then please leave a comment below but sometimes their aint a lot we can do. If anyone has a better link than this one please add in the comments)
Language: English Year: 1972 Runtime: 112 minutes
The film is available from Eureka Video who have re-released The Offence as part of their Masters Of Cinema collection. We recommend you buy from them (check out their whole fascinating catalogue) as their version comes with a whole host of special features as well as as a 36 page booklet with a essay on the film by critic Mike Sutton, a vintage interview about the film with Sidney Lumet, and rare archival imagery but it is also available from Amazon.