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Get Carter (1971)

And you thought the English were polite. After all, we've spent decades watching lavish filmed versions of Shakespearean productions, along with a slew of quirky "Brit-coms" in recent years like The Full Monty and Waking Ned Devine. But fans of Anglo-flicks know that Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino don't have a monopoly on gangster movies, as the UK has produced some of the best in recent memory, including John Mackenzie's brilliant 1979 The Long Good Friday and Guy Ritchie's head-spinning Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. But perhaps the best ever is 1971's Get Carter, directed by Mike Hodges, which takes up a theme as old as Sophocles — what is one to do when the expectations of employers or society conflict with an innate loyalty to one's own family? Michael Caine stars in Get Carter as Jack Carter, a brutal London mob lieutenant who returns to his hometown of Newcastle in the north of England to attend his brother's funeral, who died a sudden and unexpected death, ostensibly due to drunk driving. But even before he takes the train north, Carter suspects that his brother has been murdered — a suspicion his employers would rather he abandon, as they have ties to the Newcastle syndicate. Undeterred by both his own bosses and the Newcastle underworld, Carter starts poking around the city, determined to find out who is responsible for his brother's murder, but before long he learns that his inquiries are not welcome, primarily because of a secret business arrangement that Carter can't even begin to suspect. But when the truth comes out, as it eventually must, Carter's launches a one-man mob war, and one that bears little resemblance to his life as a professional killer. Blinded with rage over what he sees as a familial betrayal, in Newcastle Carter is no more concerned about the consequences of his actions than he is for the several dead bodies that mark his trail.

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Unflinchingly brutal at times, especially in the final half-hour, Get Carter is a film that can't possibly offer up a tidy ending, keeping the viewer watching until the bitter, unpredictable end. It's also one of Michael Caine's best performances, showcasing the actor as a younger man capable of both cold-blooded calculation and unconstrained violence — a far cry from the roles that Caine has undertaken since his transition to the American film industry (like the equally talented Gene Hackman, Caine is notorious for doing anything for a paycheck). Hodges, in his first feature film, plays on a lot of the cultural and class discrepancies between North and South, with Carter leaving his posh Mob headquarters in London's East End — where gangsters such as the legendary Kray Brothers were known for cultivating a sophisticated air around their underworld activities with tailored suits, expensive liquors, and flashy cars. Newcastle, by contrast, is perfectly captured in all of its post-'60s harshness, a coal and shipping town where government-built tower-blocks rise above the mean streets of dilapidated, 19th-century terraced homes — where the weekly laundry hangs to dry over back alleys, and toilets are in backyard outhouses. As much as Get Carter is a story of gangland revenge, it is also a document of Great Britain's economic transition at the time, with post-industrial wealth (legal and otherwise) starting to transform London and the southern counties in ways the north had yet to experience. Warner's DVD edition of Get Carter will please fans of the film, with a solid anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) from a fairly clean source print and audio in the original mono (DD 1.0). Features on board include a lively commentary with director Hodges, interspersed with comments from Caine and director of photography Wolfgang Suschitzky, Roy Budd's score on an isolated track, the international trailer, and a filmed short with Budd performing the memorable theme tune.
—JJB



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