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A groundbreaking crime drama which in 1971 crossed many, many lines
on 7 January 2014
This is a great classic of world cinema and I liked it a lot - even if for reasons I will explain later it left me quite sad at the end. Below, more of my impressions, with some limited SPOILERS.
Jack Carter (Michael Caine) is a ferocious hit man working for London crime bosses. One day he receives news that his brother Frank died in a car accident in Newcastle, the city in which they were both born. Carter goes to Newcastle to attend the funeral, but quickly becomes convinced that there was something suspicious in Frank's death. He delays therefore his return to London and starts sniffing around. His investigation and its consequences are what the whole film is about...
This 1971 film introduced two new things in British cinema: a level of violence unheard of in earlier movies and a very naturalistic style of cinematography.
The violence in "Get Carter" is maybe not so shocking by todays standards, but in 1971 this film caused some controversy, mostly because the killings in this movie are made in such a casual way as to appear as nothing really special... The main character, Jack Carter, made me think for a moment about Anton Chigurh from "No country for old men" (a film which I didn't like by the way) - but I found him ultimately even scarier, because unlike Chigurh he actually is NOT a completely crazy psychopath and therefore there is a strong chance that people as cold and ruthless as him exist also in real life and we may meet them every day... It is however important to precise, that Carter, unlike Chigurh, has a considerable sense of humour and quite a lot of very human feelings and needs.
There are also some very sexual scenes in this film and some nudity but they are not really very shocking. Language on another hand remains very much under control - it was years before the F bombs started to fall on London...
This film tries also to stick to the reality of things by showing the good city of Newcastle in Year of Grace 1971 in all its glorious ugliness, especially in its more industrial parts. Local people were also massively used as extras and this also gives this film a sense of realism. There is no real action scenes like fast car chases, epic close quarters fights or massive shooutouts - violence also is much more realistic here than in most films.
There is also definitely less firepower than in more modern films - in "Get Carter" people die mostly by being pushed from a building, drowned, stabbed with a knife, clubbed with something heavy, with only a couple of firearms shots in the whole film. But it certainly doesn't hurt this film, much to the contrary - in fact it proves that you can make a good crime drama without having a TEC-9, UZI or Ingram Mac 10 in every scene...
One technical precision: the Region 2 British DVD with 107 minutes version contains I believe almost the whole film, including the famous phone-sex scene which was frequently cut from the film in many countries. On another hand I believe that the whole 112 minutes theatrical version is available only on the Region 1 (NTSC) US DVD.
As I already said, I liked this film, but it left me a little bit sad at the end, mostly because it is so completely amoral but also because it clearly was one of those films which changed the cinema, by opening door to more violence, more sex and more cynicism. A masterpiece and a groundbreaking film it certainly is - but did it really break the ground for a change to better or worse? Well, if you still didn't see it, it certainly is worth discovering, so you can judge by yourself. Enjoy!