Review: The Offense (1972)

The Offense (1972)

Directed by: Sidney Lumet | 112 minutes | drama, thriller, crime | Actors: Sean Connery, Trevor Howard, Vivien Merchant, Ian Bannen, Peter Bowles, Derek Newark, Ronald Radd, John Hallam, Richard Moore, Anthony Sagar, Maxine Gordon, Hilda Fenemore, Rhoda Lewis, Cynthia Lund, Howard Goorney, Roger Hume, Roy Macready, Michael Redfern

When you say Sean Connery, you immediately think of James Bond. The Scottish actor broke through with ‘Dr. No’ (1962) becoming the very first ‘007’. According to many, he was also the best. The seven films in which he played Bond were not only very successful, they also generally received lyrical critical acclaim, thanks in large part to Connery. But as it happens when you’ve been playing the same part for years, ‘007’ became hungry for a different kind of role. A role in which more of his acting skills were demanded (although portraying the charming James Bond, especially in Connery’s case, was also much more difficult than you might suspect). The director who gave Connery the space to expand his reach as an actor was Sidney Lumet. That who cast him in the war drama ‘The Hill’ (1965) gave the actor a huge boost. He was so grateful to the director for that, that he would work with him more often. For example, in the early 1970s, when Connery forced the production house United Artists that, if they wanted him to play Bond one more time (in ‘Diamonds Are Forever’, 1971), he could first choose a project to make into a film himself – on the condition that it would only take a million dollars. That project became ‘The Offense (1972). Connery, of course, asked his good friend Lumet to direct.

In ‘The Offense’ Connery plays the seasoned detective Johnson, who has been presented with nothing but trouble for years because of his profession. Johnson is an insider. He doesn’t talk about the horrific massacres, horrific child abuse and ruthless killers he encounters in his job, he prefers to bottle it up. Now he’s on a new gruesome case involving a child molester who has struck several times in a rural town. Finally, his colleagues arrest a suspect. This Baxter (Ian Bannen) is an elusive figure, who firmly denies his involvement in the crimes. Johnson’s blood boils to such an extent that once he is left alone with Baxter, he subjects him to a harsh and unorthodox interrogation. Johnson also becomes aggressive and tackles Baxter so hard that he dies of his injuries not much later. He is sent home by his superior, where his wife Maureen (Vivien Merchant) desperately tries to talk to him. Meanwhile, Chief Inspector Cartwright (Trevor Howard) is assigned to investigate and get to the bottom of how Johnson let himself go.

The jaded and tormented Detective Johnson is the complete opposite of the charming, worldly James Bond. And yet Sean Connery manages to portray both very well. In ‘The Offense’ the Scottish actor fights against the inner demons that can haunt police officers. Especially when you are confronted daily with the horrors that people can do to each other. It can’t help but gnaw at you. Thanks in part to a strong script by playwright John Hopkins, Connery manages to portray this oppressively intense battle. Particularly in Johnson’s confrontations with people he detests—his wife, the Chief Inspector and, of course, Baxter—’The Offense’ rises to a high level. Merchant is great as Johnson’s mousy wife, who has been neglected for years by her work-obsessed husband. Their twenty minutes of intense dialogue – in which Johnson wallows in self-pity on the one hand because he can’t take it anymore, but on the other hand does not fail to mercilessly bark at his wife – is one of the strongest scenes in the film. You can expect fireworks from the confrontation with that other acting great, Trevor Howard, but unfortunately that does not happen. Stronger are the penetrating final scenes with Bannen, in which it is meticulously explained what happened in the interrogation room.

In a film by Sidney Lumet it is more the rule than the exception that the acting is taken care of down to the last detail and that a controversial theme is broached. In that respect ‘The Offense’ certainly does not disappoint. It has become a grim, intense and dark film like the ones made more in the 1970s. ‘The Offense’ has been unjustly forgotten. Of course, this isn’t a perfect movie. For example, the experimental use of hypnotic lights, which in some scenes lie like a pulsating tormentor over the image, turns out a bit unfortunate. Lumet himself already indicated that his film falls short on the emotional level. A fine example of self-criticism, because it hits the nail on the head. It is all very painful and confronting, but unfortunately the tragic conclusion does not penetrate all the way into the soul. That does not alter the fact that the long-forgotten ‘The Offense’ offers a penetrating viewing experience, with Sean Connery and Vivien Merchant in absolute top form!

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