Burning out is one of my greatest fears. Whether that’s not finding the energy to write or read, or failing to pull myself out of bed, to my desk, to continue plugging away at my future career. The Offence details an officer of the law who has snapped, his fractured state beyond repair. Frustrated and wracked with anger and guilt at his inability to bring a criminal in for his crimes, Detective Sergeant Johnson (Sean Connery) slowly spirals into a miserable, frantic and grasping approach to his work and his home life.
While his bran whirs away, his venomous speech encroaches on the moral choices others are trying to make. Forbidding a doctor to give a victim sleeping gas, so he can press further with his line of questioning. It is not that these threats are successful, quite the opposite, but it is the desperation Connery has in his eyes. Not of fear or pleading, but of anger and loathing. He shares the frustrations of his fellow officer, but is rattled by their underwhelming misgivings, and their less than devout approach to cracking the case. Connery gives an exceptional performance; he and Lumet can pride themselves on an iconoclastic array of details criticising the police force and rogue hands of the law. The Offence swerves rapidly, winding a tale of justification, rather than understanding. We are not here to understand why Johnson has made these decisions; we are present to see how many of us will fall for his arguments.
To grasp the scope of this, Lumet sets the story to the backdrop of council estates and working-class society. Connery’s tweed fedora and tie combo capture the iconography of hard-headed bobbies on the beat. Cold and harsh it may be, it does capture the working-class status of the rougher underbelly thanks to exceptional supporting work from Trevor Howard and Vivian Merchant. Never quite managing to emerge from the shadow of Connery, that would simply be impossible considering the versatility offered by the 00-icon here. Howard and Merchant merely act as an uncomfortable echo chamber, not quite challenging the preconceived notions and clutches at reality Johnson makes.
In turn, The Offence provides quite the engrossing narrative. Seeing how far it can push not just its audience but the reality of its characters and their ever-waning faith in a jumped-up detective stressed at failing to crack a case. Lumet and Connery walk hand in hand to a victorious appraisal of obsession and policework, dissecting and engaging enough to mince darker subtext with a generally appealing sense of character. The Offence is only as strong as its leading man, and while Connery is up to the task of leading the film toward levels of intense greatness, he never quite takes us that high. An odd presentation of the narrative may be unique, but it does not make it at all appealing.