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Get Caine's best performance in this gritty film.,
This review is from: Get Carter (DVD)
This little seen gem features one of Michael Caine's finest performances in a taught, dark, perfectly realized character study of a professional killer who seeks revenge --no matter how high the cost may be.
The film was obviously a direct influence on several latter British films such as Long Good Friday and Mona Lisa. Films that unflinchingly focused on character, rather than story and presented a full dimensional portrait without justification or apology to the audience. It was remade as a blaxploitation film called The Hit Man too.
You can see it's influence on recent films such as Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and The Limey with their simple revenge driven motifs. Those films however add gimmicks and tricks to the mix. Get Carter trusts its material and it's actors and stays disturbingly quiet, and on the surface simple-though internally quite complex. It's a bit of a stretch but there are influences of Get Carter in Taxi Driver as well.
Get Carter remains a very English (as in British) film. It's a film which was undoubtedly influenced by John Boorman's 1967 classic Point Blank.
The way Michael Caine plays Carter will remind you of a darker, more cynical and somewhat more mature Alfie (the cheeky Casonova from the 1966 film that made Caine an international star). He's an over-confident, immoral, womanizing hit man who'll snap his fingers and demand a pint of bitter in a thin glass and then later have phone sex, while being observed with his mistress, Brit Eckland (a cutting edge scene in `71).
Some of the events in the film are inspired by real life events, but ones few Americans have ever heard of (concerning British gangsters). The film is purposely stripped of any visual poetry and shows us a drab, Newcastle. There are seedy pubs, run down row houses, sloppy construction projects and polluted beaches peopled by working class people who have little hope, few dreams and little money. You won't find noir influenced shots of shadows and light, fog or atmosphere. Director Hodges is being stylish by carefully avoiding a sense of style, observing methodically, like footage shot for some unimaginative city planning board study. It creates an underlining feeling of despair and takes us to places almost absent of any charm, whose only character is one of slow rot. Of course this makes a good analogy to what Carter is internally. He's crossed over all ethical and moral lines in his life too many times to remain untouched. And he can't ignore what he's become when it's caused his brother to be brutally murdered.
At times Get Carter is a brutal film. There are sudden explosions of violence in the film which are ugly as violence truly is. When we realize there is a bit of good in Carter, it means we also realize he's made choices which have doomed him to this life. As the film progresses we realize that several choices he's made have created an inner-turmoil and horror Carter barely lets us see.
The film is slowly, not manically paced and invites some degree of contemplation. It becomes a rich film experience, though not a pleasant and breezily entertaining one.
It's a film of shadows, of thugs and gangsters who are not glamorous, or romantic in any sense of the word. The humor comes from the desperate bitterness of the characters we meet. Characters played to perfection by Ian Hendry, Bernard Hepton and John Osborne (who wrote the play Look Back in Anger).
Caine, is superb. He refuses to remind us he's acting and wears his role effortlessly. He never forces a line or a look or tries for audience sympathy or understanding. Anyone who relishes great performances will find this one among the best on film.
So even if you have seen too many gangster films, and even if the prospect of seeing a rather bleak one doesn't interest you all that much, perhaps the fact it contains Caine's best performance will convince you to watch Hodges' 1971, GET CARTER soon.
--Chris Jarmick, co-Author of The Glass Cocoon with Serena F. Holder (- a steamy cyber thriller available January 2001. Please pre-order it today.)