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Movie Reviews

Get Carter (original)  

The title Get Carter may be recognizable for being the title of the most recent big-budget disaster of Sylvester Stalloneís career, but it is also the title for the original film, made in 1971, starring Michael Caine. While I cannot say with absolute certainty that the Stallone version was terrible (as I havenít seen it!), I feel safe in believing that the modern version avoids much of what makes the original such a grim and nasty experience.... and that is not a compliment to Stallone. At least there is some grim fascination to be had in the Caine version.

The story as done by Mike Hodges in 1971 is about as cold and devoid of emotion as such crime flicks come. Caine plays Jack Carter, who travels to his home town of Newcastle, England, to investigate the death of his brother. The official story is that the brother died while driving drunk and tossing his car off the bridge, but Carter knows that is not the real story, and sets out to find the killer, or killers. We discover along with Carter the complex criminal web which resulted in the death of the brother, and are then treated, if thatís the proper word, to Carterís subsequent revenge.
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That is all there is to the story; he investigates, he kills, thatís the story. Hodges does not even try to clutter the storyline with lots of detail. I, for one, did not really know for sure what sort of profession Carter is in. Yes, he hangs out with other criminal types, and exhibits similar personality traits, but he does not do anything else in this film except avenge his brotherís death. So what sort of criminal is he? At the beginning of the film, he and the rest of the gang watch an underground porn film, and one of the characters is the kingpin of the sex ring, but Caine himself does not seem obviously fascinated by that sort of seedy activity. I bet the Stallone version packs in the details, so as not to confuse the audience.

Stallone himself probably also does not play Carter as Caine did --- as a cold, ruthless man, with virtually no redeeming qualities. This early role proves that Michael Caine can play with menace and brutality. He kills four or five people, including one instance where he kills a woman in such a way as to make it appear as if it is a sex slaying (and frame the sex ring kingpin). He treats women like sexual objects, and has his way with two of them. And he seems to have no true concern for any human being. He is basically one gruesome bastard.

Certain viewers, then, may not enjoy this film. The main character is a sick individual, everyone around him is sick, and the story is not fleshed out enough. And yet...... there is a hidden depth which a film packed with detail and sympathetic characters could never introduce. In narrowing the film to its basic elements of violence and revenge, Hodges makes us think as to why Carter behaves the way he does. We may not know all the facts, but we can discover a truth about such a person. I think the key to understanding his personality lies in one very important scene, in which, after he sleeps with one of the criminalís girlfriends, he watches one of the porn movies, and sees with horror that one of the players is his own sister. There is no dialogue in this long scene, only the incredible close-up of Carter and his eyes, red from the pain of seeing the exploitation of his sister. It is only after this point where the worst violence occurs.

Of course, a man like this would behave the way he does after seeing such a scene! This is your typical hypocritical macho bullshit.... in which a man will treat women like meat, basically see them as inferior, but when he sees other men treating his own sister like a sexual object, he rages, because how dare they treat his little angel like that. Just as this kind of man treats women solely as objects, he also treats female relatives as objects of a different kind, as prized possessions which are constantly threatened by those who are not himself. His actions exhibit the most extreme form of possessiveness.

Get Carter is a cool movie to watch, because it evokes a style which no longer exists in this age of more slick, more expensive films. The film looks seedy and lurid, surely because of the low budget and the loose direction, but also because we are not seeing some studio back lot, but the reality of the dark, dank surroundings in and around Newcastle. The film also benefits from Michael Caineís cold performance and a story which has a lot more shades to it than what one would normally expect in a film like this. Overall, this movie is a very interesting example of 1970's British filmmaking.

David Macdonald

David Macdonald's Movie Reviews

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