Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 52 minutes
MPAA Rating: R
Directed by: Mike Hodges
Written by: Mike Hodges
(based on the novel JACK’S RETURN HOME by Ted Lewis)
Starring: Michael Caine, Ian Hendry, John Osborne, Britt Ekland, Bryan Mosley, George Sewell & Tony Beckley
Before he was Alfred Pennyworth and a variety of other elderly characters, Michael Caine was Jack Carter! Considered by many to be the greatest British film of all-time, 1971’s GET CARTER is a gritty mystery that takes our title anti-hero through London’s scummy underbelly. Deliberately paced and wholly compelling, this likely to also be one of the darkest crime films in the history of cinema. Though one can partially blamed this on gloomy English weather, most of the darkness comes from the depressing plotline and amorality at play. There are no good guys in GET CARTER, only bad people and worse people.
Jack Carter, a London-based gangster, is returning home to Newcastle under dire circumstances. Jack’s brother, Frank, recently drowned in an apparent drunk-driving accident. However, Jack remains suspicious as to how this occurred because Frank was a straight-shooter in the family with a bright future ahead of him. Jack begins digging around the more notorious citizens of Newcastle and finds that someone indeed may be responsible for his brother’s untimely death. However, the web of secrets only gets more complex and twisted as Jack draws closer to the ugly truth.
“Caine is Carter!” was the tagline of the original promotional material for this film. Looking at that, anyone might assume that Carter is a possible action hero of sorts or a seemingly bad guy with a heart of gold. While some slight argument can be made for the latter, I consider Jack Carter to be neither of these things. Instead, he’s about as absolute an anti-hero that has ever been brought to the screen. There’s a definite charisma to him during moments, but he also wears a cover of constant intimidation as well. His decisions are questionable, especially once he receives the answers that he was so desperately hunting for. He’s not a likable protagonist, but we are still forced to side with him…especially when you consider the competition in this film. Though I couldn’t place any distinct faces or names aside from Caine, the rest of the cast brings an assortment of weasely two-faced characters to life. With the exception of an innkeeper, I don’t think there was a character with a clear moral compass in this film. That makes every plot development and revelation even more intense with each passing second.
Those expecting a fast action-packed thriller in GET CARTER will find themselves out of luck. Instead, this is a brooding mystery that carefully places a thick layer of suspense on every scene. The slow-burning tension peaks in the final third where a handful of violent moments pay off. Some of these are done quietly and others are given in spurts of uncontrollable anger/vengeance. You can actually count the number of confrontations this movie has on one hand, but if anything, that only strengthens force of their impact. The quiet, dread-filled way in which the whole movie manages to maintain an uncomfortable air around it is especially impressive. It’s all topped off by a haunting theme that’s presented in the opening, various moments throughout, and a conclusion that left me speechless.
When one thinks of gangster movies, they usually don’t picture a ton of British cinema on the forefront. That’s a mistake, because (among other fantastic works) GET CARTER is one the greatest crime films and mysteries ever made. Indeed, this is possibly the best film that Britain has to offer. Though the pacing may be a bit slow for those who want an action-packed thrill-ride, GET CARTER delivers on being a wicked and complicated mystery for cinephiles. Michael Caine’s Jack Carter is an anti-hero for the ages and you’ll find yourself hesitant to fully root for him, but hooked to the film nonetheless. GET CARTER is perfect! Plain and simple.