Seen by Martin before? Yes
What did I expect? A superior hardboiled British crime movie.
What did I get? The ultimate in scruffy, pre-Thatcherite hardboiled U.K. cool, Get Carter is the object of considerable fetishization — as its too-high IMBD rating suggests. The admiration for it is so thick that it can be a challenge for the uninitiated to crack its codes, a process I’m still working on. One striking thing about Get Carter is that, for a movie so noted for its violence, it’s almost as much about sex. Another is that, for a movie so noted for its violence, most of the violent scenes are kind of botched. Yet, like Jack Carter himself, it perseveres nevertheless.
A movie as iconic as this affords an opportunity to learn how movies work. As the movie that set the template for the “Don’ You Go Rounin’ Roun to Re Ro” genre, Get Carter is so elemental that it can be hard to understand — which is not a reference to the Newcastle accents. I’d be interested to read the source novel, Ted Lewis’s Jack Returns Home, because much of the time it felt like the material would work better on the printed page, which is not my way of implying that Get Carter doesn’t work — quite the contrary. But director Hodges scarcely seems interested in landing the narrative transitions; it’s all mood and attitude, whether the audience can follow the actual convolutions of the plot is a matter of insouciant disdain.
But as I said, this is instructive. Get Carter is so defiantly deadpan and cool that there’s almost no agenda — almost. The movie almost doesn’t care if you like it — again, almost. Part of the genius of Get Carter lies in the narrow space implied by those “almosts.” It’s not self-indulgent, but it follows its own logic. And perhaps a hero (antihero) like Carter demands this treatment: there’s no ingratiating attempt to get us to “like” him — we’re following him around one way or another, and we’ll have to put up with him. As in the world of dating, such indifference carries unmistakable appeal. Movies are after our attention and money, and apathy can be a balm.
As I mentioned, many (not all) of the violent confrontations are ham-handed and unconvincing, hasty in execution. It’s possible that this directorial flinching is also a key to Get Carter‘s appeal. It somehow sends the message that the movie is not, ultimately, a slick exercise in calculated effect. Of course, no movie set in 1971 Newcastle (of which we see much, to excellent effect) could be that, anyway. And like Newcastle, Caine’s so good in part because he’s not at all “pretty” — he’s just some chunky bloke with a hank of blond hair sticking out most of the time.
How do movies work, anyway? Why do we “like” Jack Carter? Here’s a guy who kills a blameless woman in order to make life a bit more uncomfortable for the kingpin of interest — why don’t we judge him for it? The answer, of course, is that the direction doesn’t give us any occasion to. And there’s identification too: It’s inherently interesting to watch a character so fixated on his vengeance that nothing seems to tempt him, even momentarily. And the same drive allows him to get what’s going on as a matter of sheer instinct. He may do terrible things, but he’s never lost.
What here smacks of 1971? The jazz score. The brutalist car park. That hank of blond hair.
IMDB score: 7.6
My score: 9
Director: Mike Hodges
Writer: Mike Hodges
Starring: Michael Caine, Ian Hendry, John Osborne, Britt Ekland, Tony Beckley, George Sewell, Geraldine Moffat, Bernard Hepton
IMDB synopsis: A vicious London gangster, Jack Carter, travels to Newcastle for his brother’s funeral. He begins to suspect that his brother’s death was not an accident and sets out to follow a complex trail of lies, deceit, cover-ups and backhanders through Newcastle’s underworld, leading, he hopes, to the man who ordered his brother killed. Because of his ruthlessness Carter exhibits all the unstopability of the android in Terminator, or Walker in Point Blank, and he and the other characters in the film are prone to sudden, brutal acts of violence.