Get Carter (1971)

Untitled-1So, here is a man without a conscience, without any sort of human emotion, except rage. He sleeps with whomever he likes, and kills just as easily. He shows no remorse, and exhibits no sensitivity. If he wants vengeance, he gets it, no matter the cost, no matter the consequences. He’s not even conservative enough to put on some pants before walking out the front door to a street filled with marching band kids. But don’t bother calling the cops — he’ll just kill them all.

He is Jack Carter (Michael Caine), the gangster from London, and he has returned to his hometown of Newcastle to find out who killed his brother, Frank. But Frank is not even important. I don’t believe his death provides any motivation for Jack. Jack kills because he loves it, because he is unavoidably driven to do it. His brother’s death is an excuse. He tracks down leads and witnesses, asking old friends if they know what happened. If they give him the answers he wants, they die. If they don’t, they get thrown off a multi-storey carpark. The overarching rule of Get Carter is that if you encounter Jack at any point in your life, you will die.

This is what bothers me about the movie. It is directed by Mike Hodges, and it is very well made, but everything about it thrives on being skin-deep. It never ventures deeper into the psyche of a psychopath, nor does it want to do so. It is very happy existing on the surface, with characters who are equally shallow. Its plot, too, is no deeper than a kid’s swimming pool, though it hides its simplicity by making itself complicated and meandering. There are many characters in this story, all of whom are important in some way, but are never paid attention to until their moment has passed. By then, it is too late, and they become nothing but cogs in the machine.

I refer to Jack as a psychopath because he exhibits the behaviour of a psychopath. People kill, but in most cases, they show remorse. And sometimes, they even ask for forgiveness. Murder is a mortal sin; can mortal sins be forgiven if genuine repentance is offered? I believe they can be. This is normal human behaviour. But what happens when we encounter a soul who would never repent, like The Joker, or Jack Carter? Where do they belong? They exist outside the social norm, and behave as if their actions are righteous and admirable. Signs of a psychopath? Highly probable. So for all Jack’s coolness and style, he is a psycho. And psychos are best kept far away.

Still, we are drawn to them. Their lifestyle is what attracts us. Their ability to be so carefree, so without a conscience. In trying to understand what they are like, we end up feeling some sort of connection to them. It is the same with Jack. He is distant, but charming. Michael Caine — whose voice hasn’t aged in 40 years — is a cold man, but through his coldness there is warmth, and Hodges presents him as a man who is stylish. Now the question is: Is he a hero?

Consider some of his actions. He returns to Newcastle and meets his niece, Doreen (Petra Markham). He asks her about her father, and about her path in life, and later watches out for her well being. At some very basic level, he is concerned. Towards the end of the movie, he calls in the cops to raid a mobster’s party, which, let’s face it, is the right thing to do. While the party is being raided, he forces alcohol down another mobster’s throat and then bashes his head in with a rifle, which, let’s face it, is the wrong thing to do. Hero, anti-hero, villain. The magic is in not knowing. We’re just happy we’ve never met him.

Best Moment | Some of Jack’s kills are great. Unexpected, violent. His nude entrance onto the street is pretty whacky too.

Worst Moment | Can’t think of one now.

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