Wednesday, January 23, 2008
When Sean Connery was lured back to play James Bond once again in DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER, part of the deal with United Artists was that the studio would produce two non-Bond films starring Connery in the future. The only title produced under that arrangement was THE OFFENCE, a devastatingly grim police drama directed by Sidney Lumet. It’s almost as far away from the world of James Bond that one can imagine—maybe not as far as ZARDOZ, but you get my point—and shows the actor in a light that he rarely ever appeared in again.
Set in a characterless British town, THE OFFENCE stars Connery as Johnson, a police officer investigating a series of child abductions who after he personally locates the latest victim brutally beats and kills a suspect. Forced to deal with what he has done, Johnson must face how his job has affected his very being over the past twenty years. Written by John Hopkins (one of the writers on THUNDERBALL) from his play “This Story of Yours,” THE OFFENCE is at times stunningly good and sadly underseen. It’s also as despairing a portrait of the human race as I’ve seen in some time and, in many ways, feels all the more truthful because of it.
It starts as a seemingly routine police procedural, becomes a character study, then almost without warning becomes something else entirely, which can possibly only be described as an intense dive into the main character’s soul. Directed by Lumet in the third of what would be five films the actor and director would make together, Connery’s almost the whole show here. In some angles his mustache and eyebrows seem a bit overly theatrical and while there’s the slight feeling that he would have been even stronger in the part a few more years down the line it’s hard not to notice how much the actor is fully plunging into the role. Ultimately, it’s a triumph for him and his talent.
Also appearing in the film are Trevor Howard (making his second straight appearance in a blog entry here) as an investigating superintendent, Ian Bannen as the primary suspect and FRENZY’s Vivian Merchant as Johnson’s wife. All three of these actors, who interact with Connery more than anyone else in the film, are excellent and each seems to provide a different cadence for him to play off of, thereby adding additional shadings to his character. The extremely long confrontation between Connery and Merchant in the middle of the film is grueling all by itself as all the anger and frustrations of what has built up through the years between the two come out. Admitting that he never even thought his wife was pretty, Johnson admits that he’s not even sure why he married her, why he made the choices he made in life since he always wanted “Something more…” He trails off, not knowing what else to say and her suggestion that he “talk to someone” are dismissed. Even if he did seek somebody out, it’s clear that he wouldn’t have the slightest idea how to articulate what’s inside him. It’s a reminder of how much this comes from an earlier time, when people didn’t talk about what was being bottled up inside of them. But it’s the “something more” which is haunting me now. It’s possible that it could be read as Connery himself wanting to move on to do other things after a decade of playing James Bond, to find another outlet to express himself creatively. But that “Something More” is, I think, something we can all relate to, that unexplainable thing which is out there in the world that we all aspire to, but somehow feel unable to fully put into words. Or, if it can be put it into words, we are afraid to articulate it to someone else. And it seems strangely resonant on this day, when we are all dealing with the death of Heath Ledger and wondering what could possibly have been going on in his own soul.
There was a brief moment during the film when I wondered if it was going to turn the tables and end in some kind of gimmicky twist, but the revelations that THE OFFENCE produces are much more internal and therefore more haunting. The day after I viewed it, I found myself thinking about it more, not just because of the real events that had transpired, but also because those feelings of darkness are tough for any of us to shake. That feeling of wanting “something more” is always going to be out there. Maybe we just need to at least try to come to terms with it.