Get Carter Review

The Movie
Remake, remake, remake, remake, remake, remake, sequel, sequel, remake, remake, remake, remake, sequel, remake. Last time I checked, that was the current list of films coming out of Hollywood at the moment. OK, that may be a little bit of an exaggeration as there are still plenty of original films being made, and it’s also nothing new; Hollywood has been remaking movies ever since their total output got past about ten titles. Although there have certainly been plenty of decent remakes in the past (and hopefully there will still be in the future) right now we seem to be in the midst of a total remake frenzy, and a great deal of these are pretty poor. Even if they are not bad as such, they often completely miss the point of the original, and generally suffer from being “Hollywood-ised” in a “happily ever after” way.

Which brings us to Get Carter. The original Mike Hodges 1971 film starred Michael Caine as a London mob heavy who returns home to Newcastle to find out why his brother died. It was a bleak piece of work which, along with Richard Burton’s Villain, changed the face of British cinema in the early seventies. A landmark role for Caine, and, on many people’s all-time top ten list, a definite classic.

This new version attempts to retain much of the plot structure whilst updating and relocating the story to America. In the original, Carter travels from his place of work in London up to Newcastle. The journey from the South to the North of England was deeply significant; Carter walking into a Newcastle pub and demanding his pint to be “in a thin glass” just one of the touches to highlight the north / south divide. Here he travels from Vegas to Seattle, which has no real relevance, it’s as if the original had him returning to Oxford from Basingstoke. He also travels by train in both films, as the new filmmakers obviously thought that mode of transport was significant. To get from London to Newcastle by train is a sensible way to go; to get from Las Vegas to Seattle it is not, and makes the character somewhat quirky. So, we’re only a couple of minutes in and it’s already all going wrong.

Once back in Seattle, both stories follow (very roughly) parallel paths. Carter soon ascertains that the drink-driving car crash that killed his brother was no accident, and sets out to deal with those responsible. The path of guilt leads him first to old colleague Cyrus Paice (Mickey Rourke), now into an Internet porn business, mega-rich Internet entrepreneur Jeremy Kinnear (Alun Cumming) and club owner Cliff Brumby (bloody hell, it’s Michael Caine). In the meantime he’s being chased down by his Vegas boss’s henchman McCarty (John C McGinley) for his relationship with the boss’s girl (an uncredited Gretchen Mol). When Carter discovers that the innocence of his neice Doreen (Rachael Leigh Cook) has been corrupted, the final straw is broken and he sets out on a trail of bloody revenge.

So, the story is pretty much still there, just brought up to date (online and CD-ROM porn instead of porn movies, for instance). So what’s the problem? Well, where do we start? As previously mentioned, transposing the story to the West coast of America completely loses the importance of the locations. Although the principal framework is there, the elements of the story that made it stand out have either been sanitized or removed completely. Granted, some elements of the story would simply have had to be toned down for a modern audience, particularly the excessive violence towards women. But so many scenes have lost all their impact, and such things as the phone sex that Carter has with the Boss’s girlfriend has been replaced with – a simple phone call. And then of course there’s the ending. As with so many Hollywood remakes (I recently saw the remake of The Vanishing which can be cited as another perfect example) they simply can’t have a downbeat ending. It’s hardly giving much away to say that the ending here is saccharine and upbeat, which totally, totally misses the point of the original movie.

Then there’s Stallone. Whenever you watch a Sly movie, you have to make allowances for his “acting” style. Whereas Caine was magnificent in the original, indeed it is one of his best ever roles, Stallone is, well, Stallone. Caine’s Carter was hardly likeable, but you understood his rage, and could appreciate why he took his path of revenge. It was also hardly a role expected of Caine, as he was certainly taking a career risk playing a character who descends into such violence. For Stallone though, it’s just another hard man role, this time in a flash suit. To hear him mumble his way through “You’re a big man, but you’re in bad shape. For me it’s a full time job” – one of the all-time great cinema quotes – is enough to make a grown man weep.

The rest of the acting, however, isn’t too bad, and unfortunately caused me to dislike this film somewhat less than I was gearing myself up to. Miranda Richardson was fine as Carter’s brother’s wife (notice how this element of the story has also been changed to make her character the brother's wife rather than girlfriend, and now a sympathetic character). She hardly has enough screen time to make too much of an impact though. Rachael Leigh Cook does have a decent role as Doreen, and is probably the only character better developed here than in the original movie. John C McGinley, as Con McCarty, sent up from Vegas to deal with Carter, is entertaining, but is clearly playing a violent version of his character Dr Cox from the TV show Scrubs! And what the hell is Michael Caine doing here, as club owner Cliff Brumby (this time around). Did something in this script appeal to him? Or was it the paycheque that fell out of the same envelope?

Mike Hodges’ direction of the original was bleak and unforgiving. He perfectly captured the grim and decaying look of the Newcastle of the time. Seattle may have some sleazy areas, but it is hardly the same sort of place, so immediately that element of the story is lost. Stephen Kay’s direction is all “stylish”, and for the final section of the film during Carter’s descent into total rage, the direction becomes gimmicky, employing jittery camerawork and music video style experimentation.

This remake never looked like it was going to be any good from the outset, and so it turned out. Truth be told it’s not quite as bad as I thought it would be, mainly due to the supporting cast. If had not been a remake, then it could have passed by quietly as a routine thriller. But by offering little to new viewers and offending the hell out of fans of the original it was always doomed to failure. Fail it did, performing miserably at the US box office, and bypassing the cinema altogether in the UK. Still, I don’t expect this to be the worst remake of a Michael Caine film ever; I’m sharpening my entire knife collection in readiness for Mark Wahlberg as Charlie Croker in The Italian Job. Please, for the love of god, no!

The anamorphically presented 2.35:1 image is of very good quality. The look of the film is predominantly dark, as many scenes are at night, and for those during the day it was frequently raining. The washed out look of the colours is deliberate, and the DVD image captures the look of the film correctly.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is also of decent quality. The front channels are the main contributors, but there are plenty of ambient effects delivered through the rear. In short, not spectacular, but as good as you would expect.

Video Extras
There are a few pieces of extra material here, including:

In the director’s commentary Stephen Kay tells us that he really “dug” the original. Great, just a pity he didn’t “dig” it enough to leave it well alone. Other than that there’s some reasonably interesting technical information here, and he speaks of the difficulty of filming in rain and fog, and deliberately using old camera equipment to get certain effects. But there are a fair few gaps, and if you jump to the end expecting to hear a director’s take on why the ending is so different from the original, you’ll be sorely disappointed.

There are six deleted scenes and an alternate ending which are presented in a continuous stream that lasts around eight minutes. Some of these are more alternate and extended rather than deleted, but as there’s no commentary here you will need to make your own mind up as to why they were removed. In fact in the feature commentary, Stephen Kay talks only of alternate versions of scenes that did not show up in this collection. An alternate ending? Don’t get too excited, as it is barely different from the one that was used.

The theatrical trailer is presented in anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Surround sound. Notice that the colour has been deliberately washed out of the images, much more so than in the film itself. At least this trailer doesn’t give away as much as the trailer for the original did.

Finally we have a Cast and Crew section, which as a single screen list of characters and actors, is totally pointless.

DVD-ROM Extras
No ROM extras were particularly wanted, and none were supplied.

Final Thoughts
Yet another classic movie is pointlessly remade, outraging fans of the original and slipping past largely unnoticed to a new audience. As for the disc itself, technically it’s pretty decent, but the average extras hardly elevate it much. See the original, and then only seek this out as a rental if you’re very curious.

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