Thursday, September 17, 2009

Film Review: THE OFFENCE (1972, Sidney Lumet)

Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time: 112 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Directed by Sidney Lumet (DOG DAY AFTERNOON, Q&A, BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD, FAIL-SAFE, FIND ME GUILTY). Starring Sean Connery, Trevor Howard (BRIEF ENCOUNTER, an elder in SUPERMAN), Ian Bannen (nominated for an Oscar for FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX, in Castellari's INGLORIOUS BASTARDS and Gibson's BRAVEHEART), Vivien Merchant (FRENZY). Based on the play and written by John Hopkins (THUNDERBALL).
Tag-line: "After 20 years what Detective-Sergeant Johnson has seen and done is destroying him."

Inside the man, there is another man. This is the issue at the heart of John Hopkins' masterful play, THIS STORY OF YOURS, which was adapted to film by the legendary Sidney Lumet (12 ANGRY MEN, THE HILL). One of the best, frequently overlooked, director/actor collaborations (which in my mind can stand tall beside the likes of Scorsese/De Niro or von Sternberg/Dietrich) is that between Lumet and Sean Connery (who was allowed to make his "little art film" as part of a deal with UA for playing Bond once more). He transforms 'Detective Sgt. Johnson' into perhaps his greatest role, and it's one of the great tortured souls in cinema, alongside Lorre in M and Milland in THE LOST WEEKEND.

Johnson finds himself in a terrible place, completely unsure of how he got there- his home life is a war of attrition between himself and the missus; his work life is a barrage of banality, bureaucracy, and brutality; and his inner life is an endless horrorshow- thousands and thousands of pictures and urges and compulsions that won't stop, that won't stop, no matter how hard he concentrates, no matter how hard he tries to extinguish them.

While interrogating an accused child molester, he subconsciously sees a chance for punishment, confession, perhaps even Tabula rasa, a clean slate. We delve deep, past the oppressive glow of the overhead lamp, into the darkest abyss... Perhaps the quotidian horror of it all can be best illustrated by a brief shot of a policeman, vacantly, aimlessly stabbing a pond with a stick, trying to find a child's corpse. As the suspect, Ian Bannen is absolutely brilliant- slimy, otherworldly, compelling:

As Johnson's higher-up, Trevor Howard brings his wise, lionhearted presence to the first character to stand up to Johnson's bullishness:

Visually, the film recalls the best of Melville and Roeg: fishbowl lenses, muted landscapes, entrancing slow motion, and fractured editing, which combine to build the perfect unsettling atmosphere. Truly one of the great films.

-Sean Gill


Anonymous said...

Nice writeup. This is recently available on the iTunes store for those who've been looking for it on DVD.

Sean Gill said...

It's also available on Netflix's "Watch Instantly," but I'm not sure for how long.