Michael Caine has had many a fine role in his long and incredibly varied career spanning over five decades. Considering his best film role will often bring up the usual favourites. Many people will perhaps cite The Italian Job, Zulu and The Ipcress Files as his best work while just as many try to forget about his role in Jaws 4. However there is one role that stands out truly as a cult classic and one that defines him as an actor as well as defining British crime drama for the next forty years.
Mike Hodges’ 1971 gangster film Get Carter screams out to be a cult classic even before its opening credits have past the viewer by. “Caine is Carter” as the wonderfully charming trailer states cements this and sets the tone for a grim yet exciting vision of gritty Newcastle as Jack Carter goes on the hunt for the truth behind his brother’s death.
Mixing social realism with hard-boiled noir tendencies, it presents a truly original mix of the working class underworld and high profile gangsters. Ken Loach meets Raymond Chandler if you will. Though its portrayal of Newcastle is not the most flattering of depictions, many of the cities iconic images are here but put through a filter of dog-eared grit and crime. Introducing us to a variety of seedy and dishonest characters, Hodges presents a world where everyone looks after number one without a thought for others. Carter is perhaps the only character shown to care though this is only brought about through family.
This family connection in particular plays a mammoth role in the film, though instead of the usualGodfather style respect garnered from it, it is shown as a weakness of the criminal and one that is exploited with Carter stumbling across a pornography racket that has ensnared his niece. This further adds to the grim reality that Jack faces and increases the fuel on the fire stoked for Jack’s revenge on the many criminals that seem to have done him and his family harm.
It’s also fitting that a British crime drama doesn’t portray the life of the criminal as glamorous. Though it seems that a ridiculous amount of people watched Brian De Palma’s Scarface and seemingly ignored its message of greed being awful, Get Carter makes sure that no glamour whatsoever is shown. Even some of the mansions owned by the various gangsters are shown to be in disrepair and crumbling as if squeezing in a metaphor that crime really doesn’t pay in the end.
When the narrative finally comes to its dramatic climax, soundtracked marvellously by Roy Budd’s iconic score, we see the true value of Carter’s revenge. Its shattering final denouement is a shock to the system and shows that in the end no one comes out on top.
The Warner DVD, apart from being dominated by the genre defining blue poster with Carter holding a shotgun, contains an interesting commentary with the director and cinematographer as well as original trailers and music only option allowing Budd’s fantastic score to be heard in its entirety.
Get Carter appears to be one of the few British crime dramas to take the subject seriously without adding any elements of glamour. Without it there would be no Snatch or Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrelsas well as numerous other “boys own” crime flicks. However it is here in the original, gritty masterpiece where the genre shines the brightest and presents a world that is both exciting to watch and harsh enough to not want to be a part of.