Get Carter (UK, 1971)

GetCarter_US_StyleBDirected by: Mike Hodges. First thing’s last, if you haven’t seen The Trip, please do that right away because, as much as I really liked this movie, a big part of the enjoyment was hearing Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan do bad Michael Caine voices to each other. This movie, to me, was where I totally got what everyone was on about, in a way that I totally did not get what The Long Good Friday was about. And it’s silly, because those movies are very similar, and this film in a lot of ways is the template for that later film, but I just felt something about this one. Get Carter got me like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels got me—it’s low budget, it’s cheap even, it makes its city (Newcastle instead of London) look grimey and dangerous, but unlike Lock Stock, it does so without making anything look actually appealing. By which I mean that, even with all the murder, Lock Stock kind of makes it look really cool to go to 90’s London, in a way that this movie doesn’t make anyone want to go to 60’s Newcastle, you know? And for better or worse, this movie lays down the template for almost every British gangster film I’ve seen, from Guy Ritchie films to Layer Cake to Legend—the moral compass is pretty murky, and it’s mostly about weaving a tapestry of this underworld of bad guys doing each other in, so that finally, when Carter gets that shot from that sniper rifle, it would only be sad if he didn’t get his revenge first. Having had his revenge and sewing everything up in a neat little bag, the only thing to complete it, to make it whole, is the demise of the protagonist himself. You can see this in Layer Cake really clearly, but probably a lot of other stuff too. Guy Ritchie usually goes a little more optimistic with his protagonists, but it was the 60’s (early 70’s but whatever), and in the wake of Butch Cassidy and Bonnie and Clyde, Britain needed its own doomed protagonist to stand in for youthful angst, and Michael Caine was it. And yes, it’s satisfying to speak in that Michael Caine voice, whether it’s a quote he actually said (“You’re a big man, but it’s my day job. Now behave yourself”) or something he didn’t (“She was only 16 years old…”). You can definitely poke a hole (or a hundred) into this film’s gender politics, but I’m usually inclined to go easy on old stuff for being old-fashioned. For a film all about the victimization of the teenaged niece, she barely gets any screentime, and we aren’t meant to really know about her, what she’s doing, how she’s coping with the death of her father and ultimately her uncle. It’s some classic macho bullshit in action—all that violence for the honour of his niece, but really it’s all about him, and the film is about us following him. She’s an afterthought. So I definitely wouldn’t blame someone for not getting aboard this particular trolley, but I’m a pretty big fan of British gangster films, and this one is the granddaddy, so what can you do.

3 responses to “Get Carter (UK, 1971)

  1. Pingback: Funeral in Berlin (UK, 1966) | Offhand Reviews·

  2. Pingback: List of Judgements, Anno Domini 2016 | Offhand Reviews·

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