The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Monday, June 3, 2013

The Offence

From beat cops to detectives, the police see things on a daily basis that must question any faith in humanity they have left. Murder, rape, beatings, they see it all. I'm assuming it would wear on most people, right? You can only see so much of the nastiness before it just takes you down. From director Sidney Lumet, that's 1972's The Offence.

Police are on constant alert in pursuit of a child rapist who has managed to evade their arrest efforts. Among the pursuing officers is Detective Sergeant Johnson (Sean Connery), a 20-year veteran of the police force. As the police continue the search, another crime is called in, the young girl still missing. Combing the area she was last seen, Johnson stumbles upon her in the woods. As the search continues for the rapist, a suspect, a man named Baxter (Ian Bannen) is brought in. Even under intense interrogation, Baxter gives up nothing even though circumstantial evidence seems to point to him being the guilty party. Watching the interrogation produce nothing but frustration, Johnson decides to have a go for himself, but the veteran cop has had enough. He throws policy out the window and goes to work on the suspect.

From director Lumet comes this crime/police drama that is uncomfortable and unsettling to watch from the very start. Everything about it is dark and dreary, but that in itself isn't a bad thing. A movie about the police efforts to arrest a child rapist is obviously going to be insanely, appropriately dark. It isn't quite the movie I thought it would be either, not by a long shot. We even see a huge plot twist in the opening, slow motion heavy intro without actually knowing what it is or what's going on. As it develops though, it becomes too dark for its own good. It becomes so downbeat and uncomfortable that it ceases to be a movie I enjoyed watching. I wasn't expecting a happy-go-lucky police investigation story, but this was so dark it pushed me away in the end.

A year removed from his last official James Bond entry (he'd return with the unofficial Never Say Never Again), Connery picks the perfect part to avoid being typecast as he entered a new phase in his career. This is the perfect anti-007. Too often, people think Connery couldn't act and was solely able to play everyone's favorite secret agent. This part will certainly turn some opinions, or it should. Playing Sgt. Johnson, this is one impressive part that is authentic, intimidating and frightening in its realness. This is a man who's come unhinged from reality. Year after year of horrific crime after horrific crime has worn him down to the point where he can't handle the brutality of the world he's become so (unfortunately) familiar with. A scene with his beleaguered wife (Vivien Merchant) is beyond uncomfortable to watch as he takes his aggressions out on her via one horrific putdown after another. It's one of Connery's greatest performances, unfortunately one that's not remembered as one.

Stylistically, Lumet leaves his personal touch all over this film, for good and bad. At 110 minutes, 'Offence' is both innovative in its style and sluggish. Lumet has some scenes that go on for far too long. A conversation is wrapped up, a character leaves a room, and the camera lingers with no movement. This happens repeatedly and serves no real purpose. The storytelling technique is impressive, showing us what happened, and then retreating back to the background of what's just happened. Ah, but that's not enough. We see what happened -- we think -- and things move on, but there's more to it. In another flashback, we see it again as Connery's Johnson interrogates Bannen's Baxter. It all comes together nicely. A solid montage of Johnson remembering all the horrors he's seen on the job (watch it HERE) sets the stage for his complete deterioration as a police officer, his confrontation with his wife bringing it all to the surface as she asks if she can help him work through his internal struggles.

Among all these pretty solid techniques and acting is a mess of a movie though. Once things get going as we see Johnson's struggles become a reality, it doesn't quite know how to get to the finale. A really cheesy, over the top scene with police superintendent Trevor Howard feels out of place and forced as Connery and Howard scream at each other in trying to find the truth. No doubt about it, this is a smart movie that presents a change of pace story from the usual police drama. It doesn't always deliver though, and in the process, presents a lot of questions and what-ifs that are never dealt with. Much of the movie works, but the parts that don't really flop. Gotta go right down the middle here.

 The Offence (1972): ** 1/2 /****


  1. This one started out really good but fell apart towards the end. The big reveal scene with Connery and Bannen didn't work at all for me. Connery's excellent though.

  2. Agreed. An underrated Connery performance, another one that proves how good an actor he could be with the right role.