Friday, November 27, 2015
Get Carter - The Movies!
Get Carter starring Michael Caine is one of those two-fisted gangster flicks I'd read about for years before I was at last able to see it for the first time a few years ago. It lived up to its billing and I was eager to see it again when it recently played on TCM again, which it does from time to time. The movie is based on a 1969 novel by Ted Lewis titled Jack Returns Home. I've not read this novel, but I certainly need to do so. The movie adaptation came quickly in 1971 giving the whole thing a very contemporaneous feel.
The story is at once simple and complicated. Jack Carter, a cold-blooded enforcer for some high-profile and influential gangsters returns to his Newcastle home when he learns of the sudden death of his estranged brother from a suspicious car accident. He does so despite his bosses distinct desire he not do it, but as is demonstrated repeatedly during the story, Carter doesn't seem to give a damn what anyone else thinks.
We are quickly introduced to an exceedingly seamy British society full of poverty and desperate crime and some few reaping benefit fro same. Using some strong locations and legit local extras, the atmosphere in this movie is lush and involving, allowing the cold-eyed Carter to slither about in his sharp-lookng suits like a shark hunting his prey, the men and women he imagines murdered his brother. He meets his niece, who the story suggests might be more than that, and in their relationship is the only glimmer of humanity we glimpse from the bloody gangster. Slowly he peels back the scheme, finding all manner of folks trying to get him off the case either by sexual distraction or by brutal violence. Often we don't really know what he's up to, but he seems ever to be on a track which he follows relentlessly throughout the movie to its rough and tough conclusion.
Michael Caine is magnificent in the role of "Jack Carter". He plays Carter with barely a glimmer of romanticism, presenting instead a brutal man who kills in an efficient and clinical manner. Fueled by a rage, that anger rarely leaks out, but remains contained in the urbane, even at times sarcastic facade the character lurks behind waiting for his moments to strike. When he does it is with a workmanlike nonchalance which makes the horrific deeds even more terrible.
The end of the movie is at once a great surprise, but also completely understandable given the nature of the story to that point.
Get Carter was remade in 2000 and this American version stars an aging Sly Stallone in the lead role. It's inferior to the original in almost every way imaginable. For starters, Stallone is not nearly strong enough as an actor to recreate the cold-hearted hitman of the original. He plays Carter as a brutal man, but there are many moments in the movie which give him opportunity to reveal his softer core.
This movie wants us to like its lead, where as the original never cared for that approach at all. Watching both versions in close proximity I found parallels I'd missed before, but despite the similar stories, the Stallone effort is deficient because it decides it likes being an action movie more than a tough-as-nails crime drama. The characters become parodies of types who show up in these kinds of stories and not vivid distinctive characters of their own.
The film-making is hyperbolic too, using oddball editing to suggest interior emotions since by and large the cast is not up to the task or are not allowed to display it. Michael Caine does show up in this movie in a supporting role and his brief time on screen only points up the weakness of the other performances.
There is apparently a third adaptation of the Lewis novel, a 1972 "blaxploitation" version called Hit Man. I've never seen it, but reports are not good. I'd like to get a look and make my own judgment, but suffice it to say it will likely not top the original, one of the most ruthless movies I've seen in many years.
I highly recommend the 1971 original with Caine, the 2000 rendition with Stallone you watch at your own peril.