By Richard Winters
My Rating: 8 out of 10
4-Word Review: Interrogate the child molestor.
Well respected, longtime police detective Johnson (Sean Connery) becomes so burned-out by all the sickening crimes that he has seen through his career that he snaps during the interrogation of a suspected child molester (Ian Bannen) and ends up beating the man to death.
Based on the stage play by John Hopkins this film has lots and lots of talking and some may say there is too much of it. The script is split into three drawn out conversations between two people. One is between Johnson and the suspect, the second is between Johnson and his wife (Vivien Merchant), and the third is between Johnson and the man brought in to investigate the incident, which is played by Trevor Howard. By the end even the most patient viewer may feel a bit talked out and it gets especially trying when you realize that the same issues are being discussed over and over again.
Yet that is not to say that this is a poor film as the visual element is excellent. In many ways you can appreciate the production for its visual style alone. Director Sidney Lumet displays a good handle on the material and it’s technically sharp on all levels. The lighting is well composed with the center that is bright, but the corners that are shadowy much like the human psyche and society. The overall grayness helps bring out the depression and isolation of the main character. The pacing is slow, but deliberate. Each scene builds to an intense crescendo. The music soundtrack resembles that of a one tone alarm that keeps building to a higher pitch much like the alarm ready to go off in Johnson’s head. The character’s inner tension is made even more vivid by Lumet’s use of interposing the bright light of the interrogation room over the screen. It is hard to imagine this film being any better crafted and it is a terrific training tool for the inspiring filmmaker.
Despite being talky the script in itself isn’t bad as it makes you aware of the ugly side of police work. It focuses not on the system or corruption, like a lot of other police films, but more on the actual work itself. It questions whether someone who is bombarded with the daily gore and societal sickness can remain sane and whether ‘leaving it all at the office’ is even possible. Every officer may eventually suffer scars from his job experience.
In a way this may be Connery’s best role. He shows his usual tough exterior, but also has moments where he unravels into a helpless, scared man. Bannen does an equally good job as the suspect. You are never really sure if he is guilty or not. The fact that he gives off a leering grin even after being beaten gives this film an added edge.
This is an oppressive and unrelenting movie filled with stark and unpleasant imagery that may stay with you long after it is over. Yet it is also expertly crafted and brings up some serious and important issues that are as timely today as they were back then.
My Rating: 8 out of 10
Released: January 11, 1972
Runtime: 1Hour 52Minutes
Rated R (Mature Theme)
Director: Sidney Lumet
Available: VHS, DVD (Region 1 and 2), Amazon Instant Video