Like a Western set in Newcastle (a Northeastern?), this stripped-down (ahem) revenge thriller follows Michael Caine as he returns to his hometown to find and kill the man who murdered his brother. Hang on, Michael Caine is from Newcastle? Did he learn to talk by watching Oliver Twist or something?
Bleak, terse and violent, Mike Hodges’ 1971 picture helped usher in a new age of gritty British films. The ’60s were over and cinema was coming to terms with the nation’s harsh, industrial reality. Get Carter makes solid use of this coal-blackened landscape in its moody cinematography and realistic chase sequences.
Caine’s sharp-dressing, womanising, card-playing antics mean that Get Carter can also be read as a kind of nihilistic version of a Bond film (James Bloody Bond, as he might call it), bringing to the surface that franchise’s unsavoury subtext. The only difference between him and Bond is a government-sanctioned licence to go around sleeping with, punching and killing women.
For all his iconic presence Caine is a one-note actor, making this a bit like watching a latter-day Arnold Schwarzenegger performance. His Jack Carter is a stone-cold psychopath with the same initials as Jesus, but presumably the only Bible passage he’s read is the one where Christ lets a prostitute dry his feet with her hair.
Although it lacks the intelligence of Brighton Rock or Touch of Evil, Get Carter still makes an impact through its new wave sensibilities, Roy Budd soundtrack and striking sense of place. Plus John Osborne and Britt Eckland are in it, preserving the movie’s iconic status in cold, hard cement.
This makes Get Carter a stark slice of British nihilism and an apparent favourite of both Tarantino and Kubrick, while Shane Meadows’ Dead Man’s Shoes feels like such a spiritual sequel that he should have called it Wear Carter, Fly.