Monday, May 27, 2013

Sean Connery escapes from Bond-age in The Offence

If Sean Connery wanted to change his image and escape from the shadow of James Bond, he could do no better than his role in The Offence. One of two movies (the second was never produced) that United Artists agreed to finance as part of his deal that brought him back to Bondage in 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever, it’s a gritty, unglamorous policier that had a limited release in 1973.

Working for the third time under the direction of Sidney Lumet (The Hill, The Anderson Tapes), Connery, sans hairpiece and with a bushy mustache, plays a British police sergeant whose frustrations with his job and the unpleasant characters he encounters finally come to a head when he assaults a suspected child killer during an interrogation and inadvertently kills him.

A man who keeps his emotions bottled up, Connery’s attempts to communicate his fears to his wife only lead to bickering and physical abuse. As the wife, Billie Whitelaw is as drab in appearance and as grim in demeanor as she was light and bubbly as Alec McGowan’s daffy spouse in Hitchcock’s Frenzy the year before.

Much of the film is taken up by Connery’s own interrogation by Internal Affairs investigator Trevor Howard. This section goes on too long, but is played with more restraint than the flashback that follows in which Connery, alone with the suspect who becomes his victim, breaks down. A heart-to-heart between them, meant to exorcize the suspect’s demons, is more successful at revealing Connery’s tortured soul and it’s here that their meeting turns fatal.

The Offence crawls along too slowly much of the time, and the actors, including Connery, are sometimes unintelligible, speaking in heavily accented English which may be authentic for the lower class characters being portrayed, but may prevent the viewer from fully following the story’s developments. Connery performs well, but I couldn’t help thinking how much better he was when playing Ian Fleming’s master spy. Despite his own working class background, he seems more at home in James Bond’s tuxedo, moving confidently about in a world of taste and sophistication. Is it because he’s an actor, and, as an actor, he’s more comfortable when pretending to be someone completely unlike himself? The former truck driver from Scotland whose casting as Bond initially caused some grumbling among 007 fans who did not consider such a scruffy former laborer an appropriate choice for the well-tailored spy could let loose, cast off his inhibitions, and truly act.

Brian W. Fairbanks

© 2009 Brian W. Fairbanks


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