BLU-RAY REVIEW: THE OFFENCE / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: SIDNEY LUMET / SCREENPLAY: JOHN HOPKINS / STARRING: SEAN CONNERY, TREVOR HOWARD, VIVIEN MERCHANT, IAN BANNEN, PETER BOWLES / RELEASED: APRIL 20TH
Now here’s a curio from the history of British cinema. By the end of the ‘60s, Sean Connery had long-tired of Bond, but when George Lazenby quit the franchise after only one outing United Artists were prepared to offer Connery anything to return for Diamonds are Forever (1971). So apart from the inevitable truckload of money, they sweetened the deal by promising Connery that they would make any two films he wanted (provided they weren’t too pricey) and that he could play absolutely any part. Well one of the two never quite came off, but The Offence did and it couldn’t have been anything less like a Bond. Naturally enough, it bombed.
Connery plays DS “Johnny” Johnson, a middle-aged copper who’s been investigating all sorts of nasty brutal crime for twenty years. The film opens with Johnson beating a suspected child rapist (Bannen) to death, and the story of how we got to this rather unpleasant state of affairs is told in flashback. This is very dark stuff and we really wouldn’t recommend it as viewing to anyone who’s on a bit of a downer. We see Johnson’s memories in fleeting and repeated images of cold horror but, even bearing this baggage in mind, Johnson isn’t exactly a sympathetic character. In fact, to those who saw the film at the time (both of them), Connery’s performance must have been a revelation. He’s sans toupée with a huge moustache, unmistakably middle-aged and his miserable childless home life couldn’t be less glamorous. In fact, in his hat and sheepskin, Connery comes across like a more brutal proto-Jack Frost.
While it certainly isn’t for the fainthearted, with Sidney Lumet directing, you won’t be surprised that this is a quality movie. It’s at its best in the early part of the film where we see the crime investigated against the bleak, bleak backdrop of ‘70s British suburbia and, perhaps surprisingly, this is so much more effective on Blu-ray. There’s a real coldness to the landscape and we seem to recall that the ‘70s really did look that miserable. In fact, it could be argued that the hideous contemporary architecture is a supporting star of the film (and we’re pleased to note that the most offending examples have since been pulled down). But the film is less effective in the series of intense one-to-one scenes between Johnson and his wife (Merchant), a superior officer (Howard) and arguably even with the suspect himself (whose guilt or innocence is left entirely up to you). The problem with lengthy scenes like this is that they do rather give the game away that the source material was a stage-play. While that’s fine in itself, it’s nice if you can do rather better with your chosen medium than that. Mind you, the last of those confrontations does rather save it on that front as Ian Bannen is (as ever) brilliant.
Highly recommended even if it is utterly joy-free.
Special Features: Four interviews / Theatrical trailer / 36-page booklet
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