Get Carter, 1971.
Directed by Mike Hodges.
Starring Michael Caine, Ian Hendry, John Osborne, and Britt Ekland.
Jack Carter (Michael Caine), a classy but brutal criminal, travels to Newcastle from London in an attempt to find out the real cause behind the suspicious death of his brother. As the sinister facts behind his brother’s death begin to unfold, so does Jack’s aggressive and corrupt personality.
Get Carter has been described as “a landmark British thriller” and “Britain’s most hard hitting and stylish gangster movie.” You would be hard pushed to find someone who has watched the film that wouldn’t back these statements up. The film begins with Jack Carter standing alone by a window with very little light exposing him. The sound of a sinister wind blowing and the now iconic slow, repetitive music composed by Roy Budd creates an instant dreary feeling. A group of smartly dressed gangsters flick through pornographic images while a beautiful woman named Anna (Britt Ekland) is obviously uncomfortable as criminal boss and partner Gerald Fletcher (Terence Rigby) rubs his hand along her thigh. This indicates the perversion and the sordid sexual activity that will be ever present in the film. The way that Anna and Jack look at each other gives a subtle insight into their relationship. Jack plans to travel up to Newcastle to conduct his own personal investigation into the suspicious death of his brother. He is warned not to go by Gerald – “things could get messy” – an understatement of what later occurs. When told by Gerald “the police said it was suicide”, Jack responds “since when was that good enough?” – a lovely little indication that these men operate outside of the law.
When Jack reaches Newcastle he questions those who knew his brother, including local mobsters, in attempt to uncover more details about his apparent suicide. Jack becomes increasingly frustrated when he can sense that something is being hidden from him. As the plot unfolds, Jack’s approach to revealing the facts becomes less diplomatic. This aggressive strategy from Jack is in some part fuelled by the discovery that his niece had been pushed into the illegal porn industry by those who had claimed to be friends of his brother. Jack brutally murders his rivals; stabbing one behind the back of a betting shop and throwing another off the top of a car park. The grim location of these murders adds to the sleazy interior of the film.
Get Carter serves as an exemplary specimen of the typical British ‘gritty’ crime genre. The film’s slow, yet brooding pace and dark tone are superbly executed, from the film’s visual and aural aesthetic to Caine’s performance as the vengeful gangster Jack Carter. Despite the bleak, sinister feeling that surrounds Get Carter, the absorbing storyline coupled with Caine’s captivating screen presence and charisma provides an engaging spectacle from start to finish. Throughout the film a question frequently repeats itself in my head; is Jack Carter, the so called hero of the film, any better than the ‘villains’ he pursues? The answer is a resounding no. As well as viciously dispatching other mobsters, Jack’s treatment of women throughout the film is particularly disturbing. He assaults two women and murders one of them to set up gang boss Cyril Kinnear (Osborne). Jack is a great example of the protagonist also being the antagonist, something not uncommon in British films. Another example of where this type of character exists is Alan Clarke’s Scum (1979), where Carlin (Ray Winstone) horrifically fights his way to the top of the Borstal youth system. In both Get Carter and Scum the idea is portrayed that these ‘heroes’ have to conduct themselves in such a manner in order to survive in the corrupt worlds they live in. Even so, at times it becomes very difficult to feel sympathy for Jack.
Get Carter is a timeless British classic which explores the criminal underworld of the illegal pornography industry that existed in 1960’s Britain with explicit brutality and graphic realism. Yet the classy, composed and stylish manner that this examination is carried out in, accompanied by Caine’s breathtaking performance, results in Get Carter being simply unmissable.