Get Carter Review
The MovieMichael Caine shattered his reputation for playing posh lads and preening loverboys with his starring role in Get Carter, director Mike Hodges’ bruising tale of a gangster wreaking havoc in Newcastle’s criminal underworld as he investigates the mysterious death of his brother. Based on the novel Jack’s Return Home by Ted Lewis, Hodges’ script puts Carter in the middle of a gangland feud between local businessman Cliff Brumby and crime boss Cyril Kinnear, Carter trailing broken bodies in his wake as he returns to his old stamping ground and uncovers a distressing secret involving a vulnerable family member.
Get Carter is nigh on 45 years old, yet even after all that time the film has lost none of its potency. Deadly violence is meted out in sharp, shocking bursts, Carter sleeps with anyone in a skirt and the subject matter is as grimy as ever, what with the spate of high profile sexual abuse cases dominating the UK news headlines of late. And these hoodlums are not swaggering racketeers set to a jukebox soundtrack of classic songs as they carry out their deeds, nor are they the comical dandies of Caine’s own Italian Job. They are remorseless criminals, amoral men and women who don’t live by a mythical code of honour as they just want to screw each other over as best they can. Carter himself is probably the best example of this, popping pills throughout (I doubt they’re vitamins), using and discarding practically everyone he meets in his quest to discover the truth about what happened to his brother - though he does betray a hint of humanity when he weeps after finding out that the exploitation of his niece is central to the conspiracy of silence that greeted him upon his homecoming.
Caine is excellent as Jack Carter, his measured performance a masterclass in economy of movement. Carter never expends an ounce of energy over and above what is necessary, holding his anger inside him like a coiled snake ready to strike. And when he does lash out, his face contorts into a sneering expression of rage, made all the more frightening because of how impassive he appears to be earlier in the film. John Osborne is suitably slimy as porn kingpin Kinnear, and Britt Ekland gets a small but memorable role as Anna, Carter’s moll. Ian Hendry is genuinely antagonistic toward’s Caine’s Carter, something demanded not only of his character as Eric, Kinnear’s shifty driver, but provided by the actor himself, who was apparently sore at Caine being cast in the lead role which was meant for him (MGM insisted on a bankable star). The role of the manipulative Brumby is played by Alf Roberts himself, Bryan Mosley.
Hodges' intelligent direction is layered with portents and symbolism from the off, from Carter’s position ‘up on high’ at the beginning to his Sisyphean journey up and down the coal slag heap at the end, and the densely plotted narrative means that the film is just as rewarding upon repeat viewing, if only to untangle the web of lies and double-crosses. It’s not the most pleasant of experiences to sit through again and again, but the raw emotional intensity of the film is breathtaking and the gut-punch ending is as nihilistic as it's always been. The music by jazz pianist Roy Budd also gives the film a unique flavour, relying on various keyboard-based instruments and percussion for a wonderfully idiosyncratic sound that doesn’t seem to date, no matter what era you happen to view it in. Of particular note is the lonely harpsichord motif which opens and closes the movie, and of course there’s the iconic title music.
Get Carter is a dark and gritty classic almost without peer in the pantheon of British crime movies, though the lukewarm reaction of British critics in 1971 (turned off as they were by the moral abandon of the characters) seemed to have done for the film until a long overdue video release brought with it re-appraisal in the early 1990’s, opening up the movie to a new generation of fans which had come to embrace the idea of the anti-hero - even one as repulsive as the title character. Welcome back Jack, but watch out where you're pointing that thing...
The Blu-rayWarners present the film on an all-region single-layer disc, and it’s framed at 1.78, contrary to the 1.85 listed on the cover (Warners always open the mattes of their 1.85 movies, I don’t know why). Although the image is free from physical signs of dirt and wear, the murky look of Wolfgang Suschitzky’s photography permeates every frame. The colour is noticeably desaturated, with even the primaries possessing a dull, downbeat quality. Black levels are admirably strong and contrast is never overbearing, having been restricted so as to preserve the pall of gloom which hangs over the film. Detail is soft but not unnaturally so, and grain is ever-present, spiking in the darker shots as one would expect when they have less light to play with. Thankfully there was no attempt to sharpen the film after the fact, as there are no edge halos to report. I spotted no overt compression issues with this AVC encode, the video bitrate of just under 22 Mb/s proving to be enough to contain what is a very grainy transfer.
The audio itself is similarly low-fi, consisting of a simple DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 rendition of the original mono soundtrack (again, contrary to the cover which says it has 5.1). There are no pops, crackles, hiss or other analogue artefacts to speak of, so it sounds quite robust at louder volumes, if not overly expressive. Speech is fine, the stock sound effects are what they are, and the music doesn’t fare too badly either.
Unfortunately the English audio track is the dubbed US version and not the original audio intended by the director. This dubbing affects the opening scene when Carter's employers are trying to convince him to stay in London, the men having been dubbed with badly-acted faux-Cockney accents which flatten the spontaneity of the scene and simplify the dialogue. The rest of the film is unaffected (it’s always puzzled me why our American friends had more trouble with Cockney than Geordie!) but that’s not the point: the point is that this is not Mike Hodges' preferred version of the film, and I’ve already fired off a few emails to Warners to see if they can do anything about it. Their UK DVD had the correct audio, so there’s no reason why their UK Blu-ray shouldn’t have it.
Extra features are limited to three trailers for the film and the audio commentary which has been ported over from the DVD, in which Hodges hosts a compelling dissection of his film (he derides the dubbed audio at the beginning), Wolfgang Suschitzky details some of his camera work and Caine chips in with some comments. Sadly, the isolated score track from the DVD has not been carried over.
OverallGet Carter is a masterful piece of work that's lost none of its power four and a half decades on. Warners’ Blu-ray has strong picture and sound quality with minimal extras, although I hope that they’ll re-issue it with the original sound mix at some point.
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