The Offence Blu-ray review

The Offence was made as part of deal with Sean Connery, an effort to keep him happy about returning to James Bond for Diamonds Are Forever. Under this agreement, United Artists would fund two projects of the actor’s choosing, as long as their combined cost did not exceed $2 million.

If the second of these was ever made it would have been an adaptation of Macbeth directed by Connery himself, but as it happens, the deal resulted only in 1972’s The Offence.

The film’s source is a play by John Hopkins, who also adapted the story for the screen. He’s crafted a devastatingly bleak character study of Detective Sergeant Johnson, Connery’s character. Johnson is a man pushed to the very edges of sanity by the child abuse case he’s currently investigating, and the psychological jabs from his key suspect, Baxter (Ian Bannen).

Connery is at his very best as this fractured man, confronting not just the horrors of the world around him but also those inside his own mind. There’s an intensity to his performance that makes it hard to look away even when you may really feel the need to.

Director Sidney Lumet first introduces Johnson in the aftermath of an interrogation, and an apparent explosion of violence between the Detective and Baxter. This sequence is rendered rather abstractly, with the superimposition of a light bulb to obscuring the view, slow motion shots and some sound design that blurs the line between score and sound effects. It’s an arresting way to start the film but Lumet’s experimental approach – as well realised, as it is, with help from cinematographer Gerry Fisher – just isn’t entirely successful. The light bulb superimposition, for instance, is often simply distracting.

But Lumet’s willingness to approach the material from unusual angles does often pay dividends. The film’s structure is particularly effective, eschewing a linear account of the investigation, the capture of the suspect, the interrogation and then Johnson’s explanation of his behaviour, instead shuffling sections of narrative around, and leaving the violent interrogation until very late in the film.

As a result, the audience will have to scramble a little if they are to understand exactly what happened, but also – and rather crucially – why it happened. In trying to understand Johnson’s actions, we’re moved to consider the complexities of his psyche. Deeply buried in Johnson’s hate for Baxter is an intense fear that, maybe, very little separates the men.

Spending so much intimate time with such a deeply unsettling character makes for a troubling experience, but through the deep commitment of everybody involved, The Offence becomes an incredibly powerful film.

This new Blu-ray from Masters of Cinema features a superb transfer, with the film’s darker scenes well served by careful mastering work. The deep darkness in night sequences are particularly striking, with inky blacks in all the right places.

The audio track has a wide dynamic range that would make the film tricky to watch on a quiet night with sensitive neighbours but it really allows one to appreciate the excellent sound mix and Harrison Birtwistle‘s frankly astonishing score – sadly his only foray into film scoring.

This release’s xtras are reasonably decent, with a smattering of interviews from a few members of the crew, including Birtwistle. These are not hugely informative but they do give a flavour of the film’s production.

And then, another of Masters of CInema’s excellent booklets rounds out the release, and adds more interesting information regarding the film and its production, including an interview with Lumet.

The Offence is out now in a Dual Format release.

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