In the back rooms of London, gangsters smoke cigarettes, drink scotch, and view pornographic images on a slideshow. While the stoic John Carter watches his secret fiance getting felt up by his boss, he gets a phone call telling him that his brother has been killed. The next day he gets on a train traveling to his hometown to kill anyone and everything that stands in his way to find out what happened. GET CARTER is a no bullshit hard genre gangster film that is propelled by its perverse and transgressive narrative and its self-titled leading man, Michael Caine.
The film flawlessly executes the pulpy elements that make genre pictures such a joy to watch. The mysteriously perverse big bad, the femme fatal, a bloody climax, and a hero’s fall from grace during the finale. Michael Caine is cinematic perfection as John Carter. He brutishly navigates the back alleys, barrooms, and streets of Newcastle without speaking very much at all, doing all of his talking brandishing a shotgun or better yet, his commanding gaze.
A lot can be said for Caine as an actor. He’s a lot of fun to watch, whether he’s playing an English intellectual version of Woody Allen, or a caricature of himself, Alfred Pennyworth; in GET CARTER his screen presence is as terrifying as it is commanding. You can’t take your eyes off of him. He’s brutishly mysterious, yet he’s as capable as he is cunning – always being one step ahead of impending danger that is one step behind him.
The film captures what makes English gangster films so great: the gray aesthetics of a de-glorified England. It’s rainy and smokey, with side stares from bar patrons and supremely unfriendly looking men in heavy overcoats brandishing shotguns that drive around in tiny sporty looking cars.
Another remarkable aspect of the picture is how it handles its very dark and pornographic subject matter. It doesn’t try to hide anything or deceive the audience. From the opening scene, the viewer is fully immersed into the underground world of crime and pornography. The nudity is as unapologetic as the fierce perversion of the men the film revolves around, including Carter himself.
GET CARTER is that film that was the preface to universally adored films of the genre like THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE, THE HIT, THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY, MONA LISA, and SEXY BEAST. There are not any limitations to how far the plot will trek into the moral ambiguity of the “hero”, nor will it soften the blow as the narrative slowly pulls itself to a pitch black finish.