Get Carter December 17, 2016
Consider Mike Hodges’s Get Carter (1971) the hard-boiled noir Raymond Chandler never wrote. It’s a quasi-detective caper, all right, but it’s an anomaly in that it’s a genre picture unusually unwilling to find the romanticization in its tropes and character quirks, with its lead more obviously pessimistic than Philip Marlowe could ever be and its shady characters and femme fatales more scarily vicious than mystifying. Reflective of the cynical 1970s in which it was released, it’s a cutthroat piece of intrigue that becomes only mountingly investing as decades pass and its sardonicism holds.
It stars a top notch Michael Caine as the eponymous Jack Carter, a slithery British gangster intent on uncovering the truth behind his brother’s untimely demise, which, despite being purported as a drunk driving accident, carries a strong scent of nefariousness. Though in the process of leaving his seedy profession behind and starting a new life with his boss’s girlfriend (Britt Ekland), Carter is not content letting sleeping dogs lie. And things, as it turns out, are much more personal than they initially appear.
The writing and directing debut of Mike Hodges, who would go on to helm 1980’s Flash Gordon and 1996’s Croupier, Get Carter serves as the more solemn answer to Caine’s more generally people pleasing Harry Caine headliners. It’s undoubtedly a revenge movie more deliberate than any Charles Bronson starrer, but remarkable is how seamlessly the film is a dextrous combination of intimacy, sordidness, and fun. It’s a popcorn baiter that introduces itself as being something slickly labyrinthine but proves to reversely be cold-blooded and even tragic. Revenge is a dish best served cold, but when circumstances turn out to be much closer to home than its perpetrating angel of vengeance could ever realize, it’s hard to maintain a persona as icy as Beatrix Kiddo’s.
Caine, predictably, is an anti-hero we cannot withstand the charms of — originally do we crave to see him make even if only because he looks so magnificently cool undermining those made more confident by their materialistic power. But when the plot thickens and every twist begins to hurt us just as much as him, we suddenly see his Carter as less a magnetic brute force and more six feet of vulnerability that actually does possess the heart gone to such great lengths to hide.
And Get Carter is an action movie that effortlessly complements its lead’s uninhibited ambition — it’s faithfully self-assured until emotion forces it to become a picture more three-dimensional than your typical revenge thriller. It skirts issues with character motivation — sometimes Carter’s uneven undertakings of violence make it difficult to effectually understand him — and oftentimes is too callous for us to take. But the film is nonetheless suave and exciting. It’s the alternative to the glamour of all the Bonds, and that invigoration still stands. B