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April 22, 2012

Get Carter - Classic Film Pick



Get carterMike Hodges said: “Films must have a soul and express the difficult truths of the human condition.” The British director's astute declaration rings expressively true in his 1971 debut.

Adapted from Ted Lewis’s novel "Jack's Return Home," “Get Carter” represents the apex of the British gangster genre for its realistically gritty tone, fetishized eroticism, and dynamic attention to details, which serve to delineate a sense of regional community and class structure in the city of Newcastle. Working class extras fill the movie. The result is a candid time capsule of life in Britain during the early '70s.

Michael Caine’s Jack Carter plays a ruthless London gangster motivated by the emotion with which he’s most comfortable: revenge. Carter has seen and done it all, more than a few times too. Carter's flawless fashion sense and tight-lipped demeanor disguise a wellspring of fury that knows few limits. The murder of Carter’s brother Frank— disguised as a suicide — prompts the gangster to visit his despised hometown in order to settle the score. “Who killed Frank?” is the mantra Carter repeats as he tears through town like the proverbial bull in a china shop.

We watch Jack make peace with his brother’s corpse, which waits in the family home for a lid to be screwed onto a tight-fitting casket. Hodges, the filmmaker, embraces the macabre nature of the situation without coloring it in any direction.

In Carter’s mind there’s nothing a little cash won’t fix. He has a habit of flashing a wad of bills, from which he peels off a few notes to satisfy those whose discomfort he causes by his presence. Carter imagines that a few banknotes will be enough to allow his niece Doreen (Petra Markham) to carry on without her father. But the hardened gangster’s mind changes when he watches an underground porno film featuring Doreen as its (abused) sex object. Caine’s understated acting style is exceptional during a scene where Carter watches the “roughie” porno movie to its conclusion. Carter’s list of people to kill — including both men and women — keeps getting longer.

Cinematographer Wolfgang Suschitzky’s use of long-lens compositions extends to aerial shots. Long shadows of noir-inflected mood lighting express Newcastle’s depressed economic social conditions. Suschitzky’s background in documentary filmmaking contributes to a sense of doomed urgency. Newcastle’s claustrophobic architecture of compressed houses adds to the feeling of trapped anxiety.

As the story unfolds, a subtle transition occurs in the relationship between the audience and the anti-hero to whom we devote our subjective attention. Jack Carter, it turns out, is the real villain who must be stopped.

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