Get Carter is one man’s journey of revenge against those he perceives killed his brother set against the bleak dusky background of early 1970’s Newcastle. During his pursuit of avengement, the eponymous character must meet and escape from shady local criminals, put trust in people he’s only just met and bore down into the seedy murky world of the city’s criminal underbelly to mete out his own brand of justice. The film delivers surprises and occasionally shocks all the way up to its unexpected ending.
Jack Carter (Michael Caine) returns to his hometown of Newcastle from London to investigate the death of his brother Frank who officially died in a drink driving accident, but Jack suspects there is a more sinister reason for his demise. After the funeral, he is strongly advised to leave the city by local hoodlums which strengthens his belief that his brother was in fact murdered. By running up leads and confronting former associates he treads further into the world of organized crime, business conflict and amateur pornography to trace down those who killed his brother and punish them with malice.
Get Carter shows us a northern England of another time with chain-smoking sheepskin coat-wearing characters, smoke-filled pubs of men drinking almost exclusively bitter and scotch, and hardened people eking out a living in a stern landscape. You can almost smell the odour of nicotine and factory smoke in some scenes. Perhaps as an allusion to a time when men were men and women were women, there are no strong female characters in the film and merely serve as devices to extend or serve the plot and most get their kit off at some point in the film, with Michael Caine’s character possessing an ability to bed women that James Bond would admire. One thing that is unexplained is Carter’s broad London accent although he comes from Newcastle and apparently stayed there long enough to make acquaintances with most of the mobsters in the film, but this is a minor quibble that doesn’t detract from the performance of the character.
This was the first movie directed by Mike Hodges, which he also wrote, and he accomplishes it well with a steady linear script which builds up to Carter’s homicidal enactments of revenge in the final stages of the film, believable characters and mixed stream of camera angles and locations which add diversity to the landscape. It’s a shame he never really hit the heights he set himself again after this bright opener, afterwards only directing a series of passable films, although he were to later direct the cult classic Flash Gordon.
Caine’s performance as the title character is performed well with necessary gravitas needed and exhibits raw emotion authentically at times in the film, most notably when confronting his brother’s former lover on the bridge. He acts every inch the acclimatized
East London gangster. There are few other main characters in the film, with the possible exception of local crime boss Cyril Kinnear (John Osborne), with the rest of the characters having largely walk-on parts who appear every now and again. The film develops entirely from Carter’s perspective and we are pulled along in his journey of discovery and retribution.
The film serves in a way as a crude template for later films of a lone man pursuing revenge for a personal grievance against a criminal/militant organization, such as the like that Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone (with the Rambo series) popularized in the 1980’s. The film also most proberly broadened the horizons of what could be included in action films, as the nudity and callousness shown in killings (particularly in administrating a drug overdose for one of the murders) would most likely be controversial now, never mind when the movie was first released, and it likely pushed the realms of what could be included in a mainstream release.
Overall, Get Carter is an enjoyable film which shows a former version of England and one man’s searching of answers and justice within that world to great aplomb. The film may be far from family viewing, and it has the capacity to shock, but it is an entertaining story which will draw you in and captivate.