11 April 2008

GET CARTER (Dir. Mike Hodges, 1971, UK) - Still The Best British Crime Film

Though Croupier (starring Clive Owen) comes close to being the best film Mike Hodges directed, Get Carter continues to rule as the definitive British crime film, and however much Michael Caine's stature as a film actor continues to grow, this still features his finest performance. Get Carter is regularly referred to as the film that scarred the landscape of Tyneside and Newcastle for over a decade and continues to be a film which has amassed a significant cult following that has led to the film being named as one of the best British films of the 70s and examples of the British crime genre. What really pushes this film out of it's generic trappings and sub standard exploitation revenge narrative is Michael Caine's impressive and towering central performance as the cold, heartless and brutal gangster turned vigilante, Jack Carter. The fact that critics and audiences rejected Get Carter on it's original release in 1971 kind of sums up the peculiar cinematic tastes that are inherent within the average British cinemagoer - Donald Cammel and Nic Roeg's Performance also met a similar fate in terms of box office. Michael Caine appears in nearly every scene and the way he carries himself, imposing his tall, controlled presence on the subdued mise en scene, is expressed bravely through the subtlest of gestures and mannerisms; clicking his fingers at a barman, removing Eric Swift's sunglasses with absolute confidence, and instructing his brother Frank's daughter to behave herself like a good little girl. Like Al Pacino in Godfather Part II, the vacant look in Michael Caine's eyes seems to reveal a sadness and loneliness that perfectly captures the moral uncertainity of his actions. Michael Caine moves across the desolate Newcastle landscape, dressed in his trenchcoat like a figure of death, avenging his brother's death with the myopic intensity of a lawless gunslinger and outlaw. The real joy with Get Carter remains with the unrepentant and downbeat ending which is one of the main reasons why the film was not distributed as it should have been in the UK. As Jack Carter takes one final look at his brother's shotgun and prepares to throw it into the sea, a shot rings out and he falls down dead, and suddenly the film fully transforms into an evocative example of contemporary noir; Jack is no longer the crusading vigilante and untouchable teflon gangster that he thinks he is, he is now the doomed noir protagonist. Get Carter is simply sublime film making.

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