❉ Sean Connery is riveting in Sidney Lumet’s relentlessly grim drama.
“Directed with customary precision and intensity by Sidney Lumet, Sean Connery, who was clearly working overtime to shed the image of James Bond, is pitted against Ian Bannen’s supposed child rapist/killer.”
The Offence is a deeply upsetting movie, thoroughly downbeat, and anchored by a riveting performance from Sean Connery, who was clearly working overtime to shed the image of James Bond in his first post-franchise starring role.
Directed with customary precision and intensity by Sidney Lumet, this is a stagy, depressing film that pits Connery, playing a dogged British detective who has seen one horrible crime too many, up against a supposed child rapist/killer, played with menace and questionable intentions by Ian Bannen.
Most of the action is confined to an interrogation room, a room which is continually made to feel smaller and smaller thanks to the expert camera placement and air-tight editing, which goes a long way in producing a disquieting and unnerving sense of claustrophobia.
The themes of revenge and transference are discussed in a probing manner, and the finale, while mildly ambiguous, allows for the viewer to know that nothing will ever be OK for the people within the framework of this relentlessly grim worldview.
“Connery agreed to return as Bond in Diamonds Are Forever on the condition that United Artists would back two films of his choosing, provided that the films cost no more than $2 million each. Connery was able to use his clout to get The Offence made, which carried a reported budget of just under $1 million.”
There were some early visual cues from cinematographer Gerry Fisher that reminded me of what Roger Deakins was going for in some stretches of the similarly themed kidnapping film Prisoners from director Denis Villeneuve, and I loved how Connery never wavered from delving into such a disturbing lead role, one that was clearly intriguing to him for being so far removed from the screen-defining role of 007.
The early sequence where Connery discovers the narrative’s chief victim is scarily believable and tears-inducing (for me, anyways…), and it was a further reminder of how when a scene is so well directed, fear and tension can be so well conveyed without ever resorting to gratuitous tricks. But when Lumet wants you to feel the punches and taste the sweat and blood, he’s not afraid to unleash an ass-kicking, but it’s never unimportant to the narrative, or without motivation from the characters, which always makes for a more honest story.
The film’s gestation is an interesting one. Connery agreed to return as Bond in Diamonds Are Forever on the condition that United Artists would back two films of his choosing, provided that the films cost no more than $2 million each. Connery was able to use his clout to get The Offence made, which carried a reported budget of just under $1 million, and was shot under the working title of Something Like the Truth in March and April 1972, in and around Bracknell, Berkshire, with other scenes lensed in the Wildridings Mill Pond area and also Easthampstead’s Point Royal.
“Over the years, The Offence has gained a reputation for being an atypical item in Lumet’s massive filmography, and a challenging piece for Connery, who should have gotten more respect for his work on this film at the time of its release.”
The action scenes between Connery and Bannen were designed by Bond regular Bob Simmons, who went uncredited, while the film stands as composer Sir Harrison Birtwistle’s only motion picture score.
United Artists then released The Offence in 1973, where it would become a commercial failure, and in some markets, including France, never getting a proper release. United Artists then pulled out of their deal with Connery, abandoning the next project, which was to have been a film version of Macbeth that Connery was to direct, with Roman Polanski beating them to the punch.
But over the years, critics and audiences have again discovered just how powerful The Offence is, and it’s gained a reputation for being an atypical item in Lumet’s massive filmography, and a challenging piece for Connery, who should have gotten more respect for his work on this film at the time of its release. Also, it must be noted: Connery says the phrase “bloody” a lot in this film. A bloody ton. It’s sort of comical.
❉ Nick Clement is a freelance writer, having contributed to Variety Magazine, Hollywood- Elsewhere, Awards Daily, Back to the Movies, and Taste of Cinema. He’s currently writing a book about the works of filmmaker Tony Scott, and co-operates the website Podcasting Them Softly.
❉ He is also a regular contributor for MovieViral.com, a site dedicated to providing the best news and analysis on viral marketing and ARG campaigns for films and other forms of entertainment.