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Offence, The (UK) (DVD Details)

Unique ID Code: 0000064659
Added by: Jitendar Canth
Added on: 2/10/2004 21:55
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    Review of Offence, The

    7 / 10


    There is a perennial debate about sex and violence in the media. People take sides with regards to censorship and regulation, the argument is that the more a person sees of such a thing, the more he becomes jaded towards it. While what we are allowed to see on our screens is a thorny issue in itself, I often forget about those among us like the police whose job it is to deal with the horrors of real life. There`s no age rating, no censor to protect their sensibilities. Safe and sound in our everyday lives, it`s easy to forget that they have to deal with the darkest side of humanity, the criminals, the depraved and the victims who suffer because of them. To expect a policeman to accept this aspect of his job with equanimity would be naïve, it all boils down to how they deal with what they experience. The Offence explores just this subject.

    Detective Sergeant Johnson is a policeman of twenty years experience, and one who takes his job very personally. When a fourth girl is kidnapped and attacked by a serial paedophile, the police become even more determined to catch him, and it isn`t soon before one Kenneth Baxter is under arrest, identified by his coat, and damned by the blood and mud on his clothes and the scratches on his face. He`s reluctant to talk to the police to say the least, and the questioning officer decides to give him some time to stew. Johnson disagrees, feeling that more pressure is required, and goes in alone to question Baxter. The next thing we know, Baxter is dying and Johnson has his blood on his hands.


    The picture is a 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer and is disappointing to say the least. It`s a little dull, which is understandable given the location and the subject matter, and the film does show signs of age in terms of print damage and grain. The image is generally soft, but there has been an attempt to remedy this by means of edge enhancement. The resulting shimmer and moiré is quite distracting even on my relatively small 28" set, and small detail is often horrendous to look at. From a distance, even the line between people`s lips is a completely straight line.


    Europe can once again rejoice in the plethora of sound and subtitle tracks available here. The original DD 2.0 English soundtrack is joined by DD 2.0 Italian, Spanish and German dubs as well as a DD 2.0 Polish on the fly translation. Subtitles are available in seven languages, and the dialogue is clear throughout. The film is largely absent of music, making the subject matter even more chilling.


    Of all the MGM back catalogue discs I have seen recently, this one most deserves extras, a commentary track, a documentary, something. Alas, you`ll have to make do without.


    This was the first film that Sean Connery made after hanging up the Bond tuxedo for good. He certainly couldn`t have picked a more radical way to avoid typecasting. The Offence, even after thirty years is a hard-hitting and often harrowing character study. It`s compelling viewing from beginning to end, as we watch a dedicated and committed police officer unravel when his demons surface. The film`s narrative serves much of this purpose, as we are thrown in at the moment of eruption, and we see Johnson standing over the bloodied form of Baxter trying to come to terms with his actions. The story then flashes back to the events that led up to the assault. Johnson then once again recounts what happened to an investigating officer when he is being questioned. Each time we see more and more of what has happened, and as if peeling the layers of an onion we understand more about what motivated Johnson. The film deftly plays with the audience`s feelings as we flip-flop between empathising with Johnson and despising him.

    The crime involved doesn`t help, and is certainly more topical than ever today. A paedophile is preying on the young and innocent, and the atmosphere of fear and mistrust that permeates the community is all too familiar, as parents wait nervously for their children to leave school. One can understand then the sheer determination of the police to catch the man, and the fact that they are apt to cut corners doesn`t come as a surprise. When an arrest is made, the assumption is that Baxter is guilty, although nowhere in the movie is that explicitly stated. The fact that Baxter is a thoroughly detestable man, serves to provoke the already volatile Johnson. That this is such a heinous crime that causes people to forget the rule of law is certainly mirrored today in society. If there is any crime that provokes vigilante justice, witch hunts and lynch mobs then child abuse is that crime. When a man is willing to take the law into his own hands, is he motivated by justice or by something far darker?

    The performances in this film are outstanding. Sean Connery plays Detective Sergeant Johnson, and it`s an amazing portrayal of a man haunted by his experiences. A professional police man to the core, Johnson has been schooled to take the unsavoury part of his job and lock it away, put it aside when the day is done, yet he is unable to do that, and after twenty years on the job it`s these images of horror that motivate him to do his job, yet stop him from finding peace. Ian Bannen is the suspect Baxter, a thoroughly detestable personality, yet as I said, there is never any admission or statement that he is the guilty party. He manages to develop a macabre sort of rapport with Johnson, a measure of control that is chilling to behold. There is able support from Trevor Howard as Detective Superintendent Cartwright, the man who interrogates Johnson after the incident, as well as Vivien Merchant as Johnson`s wife. It`s safe to say that no one puts a foot wrong in this film.

    The Offence is an outstanding film with perhaps Sean Connery`s finest performance and Sidney Lumet`s directs capably. It`s with a curious irony though, that this film seems a little tame compared to the reactions it must have provoked in 1973. Today we have become used to graphic images of violence on screen. When Channel 5 can run a series of plastic surgery procedures, our threshold for gore is a lot higher than it used to be. Also child abuse is no longer the hidden crime it used to be, so the subject matter of this film is no longer as disturbing. It falls to the actual story to evoke emotions, and seeing the disintegration of Johnson and seeing into his thoughts is ultimately more chilling than the subject matter could ever be.

    The film isn`t for every taste, but if you want to be challenged and made to think, then I heartily recommend The Offence. Unfortunately a rather lacklustre disc from MGM make recommending the disc far harder than recommending the film.

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