Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Sean Connery in THE OFFENCE

"It's possible, see.  Just possible that I've killed a man tonight."  So rants an angry veteran police detective when he gets home to his emotionally beaten down wife.  If you're a Sean Connery fan, you must promise me that you will rent this movie.  Then you must tell me if you agree that his performance in it tops the one he gave in The Untouchables, the 1930s gangster drama that brought him the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor of 1987.  Connery had already skyrocketed to fame as Agent 007.  THE OFFENCE, directed by Sidney Lumet, is a 1973 psychological thriller.  In it, Sean Connery gives a blistering performance, one of the best and most complex of his screen career.                                                              
This is a Sidney Lumet cop-in-moral crisis story -- like Serpico and his under-appreciated Prince of the City.  Those two were stories set in New York City.  The Offence takes us to Great Britain, which explains the film title's spelling.  Thick-skinned, tough Detective Johnson starts to crack from the horrors of his job, the reality of seeing how inhuman humans can be to each other.  He never talks about the darkness he sees in his work, the darkness now corrupting his soul. He's currently on the case of a child molester.
Lumet opens the film with a slow-motion scene of an emergency inside a police station.  The setting is gray and sterile. Det. Johnson is seen at the center of the crisis.  Then we're in real time at a hillside school when classes are done for the day.  Parents wait for their kids at the fence.  There's no chatter, no laughter, nothing jovial about the moment.  The sky is overcast and it appears to be autumn.  All is somber.  Kids exit the school and parents quickly claim them.  Det. Johnson observes with other cops.  One girl, of about middle school age, walks home alone.  She wears a light-colored coat and long white socks.  The cops don't see anything suspicious.  But, from a distance, we see the girl take what may be a short cut and head towards a tunnel.  A male figure in a black coat approaches.  We can't see his face.
At night, in the woods, Det. Johnson finds the scared girl.  She's been molested but she's alive.  In the ambulance, she's covered with a dark red blanket and rests her head on a white pillow.  She wears the detective's coat. He speaks kindly to the traumatized girl.
These colors are important.  About 40 minutes into the story, we see all of what we got a slow-motion glimpse of at the beginning of the story.  The 20 years of wicked behavior he dealt with on the job have eaten away at his heart and soul.  The rapes and the murders.  Wicked behavior in him erupts when a suspect is taken into custody.  Johnson goes wild in the interrogation room.  The suspect is hit.  Johnson also hits another officer.  When other cops rush in to control him, we see rage, then remorse and then a void in Johnson's eyes.  A police lieutenant, played by Trevor Howard, calls Johnson on his police brutality.

On his way home, images of crimes flash through Det. Johnson's mind.  He arrives at his building and gets out of the car.  Lumet has the camera low and it follows Connery's character is if it's a molester, a predator.  In his apartment, one of the most intense and revealing scenes of The Offence unfolds.  The wife is in bed asleep.  Her husband enters in a brutish way.  He pretty much pushes the door opens as if charging into a suspects home.  He angrily opens cabinet doors.  He makes noise and makes a drink.  The wife enters the room.  Their marriage has been one long wooden experience. He's verbally abusive to her.  He calls her "a bloody mess."  She follows after him in the apartment trying to clean up after him and fix things.  He continues to harshly criticize her.
The protector has become the abuser.  We learn that the cop and his wife have a sex life that is quick and mechanical.  He's very frustrated but keeps everything bottled up. He never talks.  "Choose to talk to me," she pleads.  In one shot, he's got a drink going and she, in her robe, looks boxed in.  She's in the distance in the kitchen.  Her robe matches the color of the blanket the molested girl had in the ambulance and the background white in the kitchen matches the white of the pillow.  The brown of the shelves boxing her in resemble the brown of Johnson's coat that he put on the traumatized girl.  The wife is a victim of the cop's dark inner self.  Connery has a long monologue delivered while the wife is at his feet.  He holds her hand.  He reveals in detail the crimes he's seen.  The revelations are disturbing.  He grips the wife's hand too tightly and hurts her.  Connery is brilliant in this scene.  You feel sorry for the detective yet he's also frightening.  Matching Connery's brilliance is Vivien Merchant as the wife. Her other credits included Hitchcock's Frenzy and an Oscar nominated performance in Alfie starring Michael Caine.
The one person who readily recognizes the darkness in Johnson and can maybe help him is the molester in custody.  Their scenes together are equally tense.  Ian Bannen plays the taunting suspect who sees the cop's weak spot.  Here's a trailer for the film.
With director Sidney Lumet, Sean Connery and Ian Bannen also made The Hill, an exceptional movie set in a British army prison in North Africa during WW2.  There's a fine line between prison abuse and military objective.  Connery's character challenges the authorities and the abuse.  I highly recommend that 1965 drama too.  Connery also starred in Lumet's Manhattan crime caper story, 1971's The Anderson Tapes.

Unfortunately, The Offence didn't click at the American box office.  Maybe audiences still wanted Sean Connery as a James Bond type of guy and avoided this drama with its smart and unsettling screenplay by John Hopkins.  Hopkins, by the way, was a co-writer on the 1965 James Bond thriller for Connery, Thunderball.  Audiences missed this remarkable performance by Sean Connery in The Offence.  Months later in 1973, another cop-in-moral crisis movie from Sidney Lumet opened. Moviegoers and critics loved Al Pacino as Serpico.  The film earned Pacino an Oscar nomination for Best Actor.

If you can, rent The Offence and let me know if you agree that this performance by Connery surpasses his Oscar-winning work in The Untouchables.  Sean Connery and Sidney Lumet were in fine form with this one, a film that is often overlooked.

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