by Marc Kandel
Thereís a smooth pint of brilliant in telling your audience that the best out of life you can expect is the ruination, destruction and death of every single person that ever pissed in your cereal and having secured this victory, being carried away on an excruciatingly brief yet sublime moment of supreme peace and joy right before you die.Jack Carter abandons his posh London lifestyle as a premier button man to a powerful crime cartel for the dreary, industrial backwash of Newcastle on Tyne to bury his brother, a man who trod a humble, working manís path, estranged from Jack for years, leaving behind a daughter and not much else. Jack finds his brotherís death was no accident, and out of familial duty and guilt, vows vengeance, though his quest exposes his hypocrisy and culpability, and eventually shatters the foundations of his life.
"The Feel-Good Revenge Film of all Revenge films."
The term ďlifeĒ is questionable when discussing Jack Carter. Heís an automaton, rigorously tending his body, brilliantly illustrated not through rote montages of strenuous bodybuilding or martial arts practice, but a subdued, detailed regiment of vitamins, nose-spray, and dead-eyed inspections in the mirror. There are pleasures, particularly sex, but to Carter, its casual exercise, expressed as quiet, dominant phone-play with his bossí lusty mistress Britt Ekland or blunt humping with his weathered landlady (following the sex call, which Carter uses as crude foreplay, allowing the other woman to listen). Carter is first and foremost a weapon; heís been shaped, honed- now itís just a matter of oiling the parts and awaiting his keepers to aim him at a target.
As Carter sits in his familyís small, sparse flat, his brotherís coffin taking up the bulk of the space, staring at the dead face of his estranged sibling, something flickers across his face. Is it rage? Sadness? We donít know for certain and perhaps neither does Carter. When he discovers the system of corruption and illegality he enforces has tainted and destroyed the part of his life thought safe from his world, Carter unearths emotions cast aside to be an effective instrument of discipline and violence. Carterís keepers are not pleased; a weapon with feelings is flawed, obsolete, and in danger of turning on its owner. Carter must find and exact vengeance on his brotherís killers before his former superiors can get Carter.
Director Mike Hodges cuts the glamour and style of the expected gangster film, presenting a worn, weathered world peopled with rough characters (one pub grotesque even sports six fingers, underlining Newcastleís existence as industrial runoff). Beauty comes chiefly in the form of exquisitely gorgeous women, but as we learn, everything and every one is rotten, petty, mean and damaged, the outer beauty concealing moral rot.
Carter is not immune to this decay. Hodges never presents a flawed hero striving for redemption. Carterís motives are selfish at the first, beholden to the criminal code of family being off-limits, a rule disrespected by Carterís superiors as it is inconvenient to their goals. Carter is at best, a cleansing fire.
The beauty, the glory of the film is watching the machine ripple and melt away to reveal a human as he torches the world he has helped to foul. Carter finds his beating heart, he is vulnerable, careless, carefree, and at that moment of freedom another machine steps up takes his place. What a moment it is- Paul Kersey, Max Rockatansky, Edmond Dantes, Beatrix Kiddo, despite ďwinningĒ, wrestle with the cost to their humanity, the price on the innocent their vengeance has exacted, the knowledge that their work may not be done. Carter explodes in joy. He is free, triumphant, if but for a moment- even then, his ecstasy is preserved at its height. His victory is an absolute.
I wonít say Michael Caine is in rare form, because the norm for Michael Caine is excellence- par for the course here. Caine plays righteous, but knows Carter is still a monster, however polished. The journey is heart-rending, yet never sentimental. The quest is not clean. Carter damages as many innocents as he does villains in his maelstrom of retribution be it as pawns or as collateral damage for being in Carterís proximity (one unfortunate that takes a severe beating for Carter is rewarded with dismissively tossed money and smirked advice to take a Karate course). But Caine sells the vendetta, his frenzy is infectious, and I am powerless to do anything but root for Carter. He exudes charisma despite severe emotional distance, and when the feelings do come, every tear and grin is paid in full. Iíve not seen every one of Caineís most notable performances, but I canít imagine enjoying him more than I do here. Also, for any actors in the audience, Caineís DVD commentary for this film is as instructive and enlightening as anything found in a classroom.
It is worth noting that Mike Hodges manages to make Get Carter surprisingly titillating and very erotic in points- an element Iíve found in most of his films, even Flash Gordon where Mingís fondling of his servant girlís legs is delightfully arousing, more so than a good portion of hardcore porn, those players mechanically jiggling and bleating for their paycheck at the cost of genuine sensuality. Hodges likes sex; he approaches the subject honestly, shamelessly and deliberately, with as much commitment as his action and drama- resulting in strong films with memorable visuals and emotional content.ďRevenge is a loserís game,Ē says the big baddie of ďSin City: To Hell and BackĒ. Jack Carter would say different, but does that make him right? Finding the answer is the core splendor of ďGet Carter.Ē
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originally posted: 11/25/08 11:48:38