The Offence (Great Britain, 1973):

Opening with police sergeant Sean Connery held down by his colleagues after smashing a suspectís face in during an interrogation, the narrative bends over itself to reveal the "before" and the "after" of the beating. Structured like a series of suffocating duets, Sidney Lumetís pungent crime drama maps out the detectiveís burning fuse during a child molestation case, dissecting his interactions with his drab wife (Vivien Merchant), a questioning lieutenant (Trevor Howard), and, most tellingly, the doomed bloke picked up during the investigation (Ian Bannen). Less well-known than his other British pictures (The Hill, The Deadly Affair, Murder on the Orient Express), this unrelentingly somber policier inaugurates a newfound force in Lumetís work. The story, adapted by John Hopkins from his play, abounds in stylistic tics (recurring visual motifs, various events replayed several times, color coding), but the flashiness that pockmarked much of the directorís earlier work has been pruned to hushed, concentrated intensity. Likewise, the movie looks ahead to the bathed-in-gray thematics of Lumetís later studies of law & order ambivalence -- Conneryís pressure-cooker copper, plagued with lurid images palpitating inside his brain, is the template for the protagonists of Serpico, Prince of the City and Q & A. Connery pinpoints some fantastic shadings of bullying, dissatisfaction and self-disgust, matched by Bannenís peerless razzing -- the culminating pounding is less liberating purgation than guilt transference, christened by Bannenís bloodied leer. Cinematography by Gerry Fisher. With Derek Newark, John Hallam, and Peter Bowles.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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