Reviewed By

Christopher Armstead
In Mike Hodges 1971 crime classic 'Get Carter' we meet Jack Carter.  Jack Carter (Michael Caine) is a bad man.  Seriously.  This dude is just awful.  Carter will shoot you, stab you, punch, slap you, poison you, sleep with your girl… even if this girl belongs to his boss or his own brother… Jack Carter just doesn't care.  But then Jack, some kind of gangster enforcer in London, gets word that his brother has died under some mysterious circumstances.  Now it's time to go back home and get to the truth.  Knowing Jack as we will come to know Jack, and like the folks in his home town already know Jack, they should've shot Jack Carter the minute he stepped off the metro. 

Carter gets into town, even though his bosses back in London told him not to go, but Carter isn't one to listen too good, and he starts asking questions.  Now Jack Carter isn't exactly something one would call a detective in his line of questioning, not exactly the clever kind unearthing nuggets of information within the words of lies, or reading between the lines, but Carter's approach is still effective, nonetheless.   Carter knows his brother wasn't much of a drinker so him getting stone cold drunk and driving off a bridge rings untrue, just as the notion that he was depressed about something and decided to end his own life does not sound like the truth. 

So Carter digs a little deeper, along with a friend of his brother's in Keith the barkeep (Alun Armstrong), to find some answers and the more Carter digs the more that certain people in town want him to stop digging.  Take poor Keith for instance, a nice kid if ever there was one, just trying to do the right thing.  Keith learned that helping Jack Carter is really bad for one's health, and to add insult to Keith's injury, Jack is completely unsympathetic to the fact that Keith found injury while helping him.  The ability to feel is not one of Carter's gifts.
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But don't think that Carter is a complete monster, oh no, as he is truly fond of his niece Doreen (Petra Markham).  Almost in a fatherly way.  And while Cater is certainly a bad man, but if you want to make a bad man worse, do some harm to Doreen.  And Carter has figured out what led to his brother's death, he's figured it's somehow tied to something bad that happened to Doreen, and has also surmised that local heavy Cyril Kinnear (John Osborne) is behind all of it.  Thus, to rectify this, people will need to get shot, thrown off buildings, drowned, drugged, stabbed, brutalized and framed.  All in a days work for Jack Carter.

Forty plus years after the fact 'Get Carter' is still a very interesting film in a number of ways.  I imagine one could call it an action thriller, though the style and pacing of the film could hardly stand up to the hyper standards which constitute an action thriller these days.  This is an action thriller stripped bare of all pretense, one that focuses almost solely on it main character, and this main character gives us as little as humanly possible.  While the mystery of who killed Carter's brother and why, is the force that drives Jack Carter forward, it's not the force that drives the film.  Michael Caine is what makes 'Get Carter' the classic it is often recognized as being as I spent the majority of the film attempting to figure out what drives Jack Carter, more so than the chicanery which resulted in the untimely death of his brother.

Carter is back home in Newcastle to find out what really happened to his brother, even though he didn't seem to care about this brother all that much, so why all the concern now?  Even though this is kind of left open, we can only assume that Jack Carter lives by the rule that 'I can do my people wrong, but nobody else can'.  Then there was the relationship between Carter and his niece, clearly the only person on the planet who can elicit even the slightest bit emotion from Cater that isn't centered on violence or sex, which throws the mythos of Jack Carter into even more murkier waters.

While Michael Caine clearly drives this film as he is in almost every single scene, the supporting performances are also impressive, particularly the late John Osborne as the slippery Kinnear.   I would call Kinnear the villain of this piece, but I think we all know the real villain in 'Get Carter' is Jack Carter himself, the other characters littering the landscape just being slightly less vile versions of Carter.  However watching Osborne glide in and out of the room with his superior, 'I'm so much better than all of you' attitude, which was in direct contrast to Carter's unabashed, unashamed criminal behavior, made for an interesting dichotomy.  It's too bad that John Osborne was such a noted writer because he was also a darn good actor.

'Get Carter' earns its stripes as a classic very honestly.  A great performance from Michael Caine at the prime of his career, sparsely but crisply directed by Mike Hodges, simply written but deceptively complex, mostly due to Mr. Caine's performance, 'Get Carter' is British crime cinema at near its very best.
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