"Get Carter" is often said to have inspired the current crop of British gangster films. If this is the case, Guy Ritchie et al must have well and truly got the wrong end of the stick. I haven't actually seen "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" or any of the "Right Royal Cockney Barrel O'Monkeys" type films which followed it, but I get the impression that these are merely dumb entertainment for "new" lads. In contrast, "Get Carter" is unremittingly bleak. If Samuel Beckett wrote a gangster film, it might come out something like this. The grim Newcastle locations add to an atmosphere of decay and despair. The naturalistic camera work avoids cliches and adds effectively to the atmosphere. Long, static shots give the impression of actually being present as a bewildered bystander as the gangsters go about their "business". Although the long tracking shots of people walking/running are almost pythonesque at times, this only serves to emphasise the down to earth realism of the film. After all, even violent gangsters have to go through banal routines such as walking down the street. The score is minimalist but very effective, in contrast to the modern British films which seem to be conceived as a gravy train for music publishers and second rate "indie" bands.
There are few, if any, sympathetic characters. Jack Carter, the central character, is not at all pleasant or heroic. The only people for whom he shows any affection are Frank and Doreen, and he is unable to express this affection except through money and violence. Keith thinks he is Carter's friend, but when he is let down and beaten up he realises that he is being used. Carter does not appear to love Anna, and it is not certain whether she really loves him, although there is a genuine sexual attraction between them. Carter belongs to a misogynistic and hypocritical culture which the film scathingly exposes. The only scene in which he shows any genuine emotion is when he discovers a porn film featuring his niece, Doreen. The cruel irony is that in the opening scene, he was seen looking at dirty pictures with his cronies, and his disgust must be partly directed at himself even though he refuses to acknowledge it. He then expresses his shock and outrage by going straight upstairs to assault and humiliate the nearest woman! And she just happens to have appeared in the very same film as Doreen: a clear case of men projecting their own sexual guilt onto women. The makers of the film cannot have been unaware of the implications of this sexual hypocrisy. The scenes are deliberately juxtaposed to emphasise Carter's ambivalence and double standards.
The certainties of a linear narrative have been bravely eschewed. Carter is only able to react to events which are beyond his control and is sometimes led up blind alleys, taking a long time to realise what is really going on. This, again, is realism at its best. Real life does not have a coherent plot and nobody has complete control over their own life. Carter's lack of control is a central theme of the film. He likes to think that he is big, hard and clever, but his acts of revenge are ultimately pointless. Like Frank Machin in "This Sporting Life", he is emotionally shallow and able to express himself only through futile acts of aggression. He is cruelly exposed in the final scene as the smile is wiped off his face, the closing shot of the sea emphasising man's powerlessness.
The film also contains elements of social comment and class politics. Frank is portrayed as a decent, honest, "salt of the earth" working class type, while the slimy and sinister Kinnear has a chauffeur and lives in a big house in the country where he hosts decadent orgies. These themes come to the fore in the (often overlooked) funeral scene. As Frank's small cortege pulls through the gates of the crematorium, we see an endless stream of cars leaving from the previous funeral. The message is that the "liberation" of the 60s brought few practical benefits for working class people in the north of England. Again, this relates to the dominant theme of control, or lack of it. The "swinging 60s" are exposed as a dead end of pointless hedonism. The extent of women's liberation is also questioned. "Get Carter" portrays a society in which women are not at all liberated except in a few superficial ways. The female characters in the film are all victims, owned and used by men who see them as sex objects and little more. It is implied that the sexual freedom brought by the contraceptive pill has benefited men more than women.
It's not all angst and depression though. There is some good fighting, swearing, shooting and dangerous driving. There are also many subtle touches of black humour. Nevertheless, this is not a mindless action film. The consequences of violence are never ignored or glossed over. We are shown Keith lying on his bed in agony after getting a severe beating, leaving us in no doubt that his brief flirtation with gangsters has ruined his life.
"Get Carter" is a masterpiece, although it will not be to everyone's taste. If you want non-stop action, try a mindless Arnold Schwarzeneger film. There is nothing for you here. However, if you are prepared to approach "Get Carter" with an open mind and think about it rather than be a passive observer demanding to be entertained, you will find a rewarding work of art with hidden depths. Forget Guy Ritchie. The only worthy successor of "Get Carter" is Neil Jordan's "Mona Lisa", which addresses similar themes and is equally bleak and disturbing.
Action / Crime / Thriller
Action / Crime / Thriller
A vicious London gangster, Jack Carter, travels to Newcastle for his brother's funeral. He begins to suspect that his brother's death was not an accident and sets out to follow a complex trail of lies, deceit, cover-ups and backhanders through Newcastle's underworld, leading, he hopes, to the man who ordered his brother killed. Because of his ruthlessness, Carter exhibits all the unstopability of the android in Terminator, or Walker in Point Blank, and he and the other characters in the film are prone to sudden, brutal acts of violence.
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April 10, 2014 at 03:21 AM