Get Carter

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

There’s an unrelenting quality about Get Carter that is perfectly captured in the opening titles. In this sequence we see Jack Carter travelling on a train from London to Newcastle. From a distance we see him eat dinner and then in a toilet we see him take nose drops. It’s like he’s preparing for a business trip. But instead he’s making the long trip up North to his hometown so that he can find out who killed his brother. And with the visceral shots of trains whizzing past, it’s like Carter is a bullet. He’s going straight for the jugular. He’s not going to mess about. His mission is a simple one.

In one of the opening scenes, Carter arrives in a Newcastle pub. He asks for a pint of bitter and then after the barman goes to serve him, he clicks his fingers and orders that it be served in a thin glass. As if the flash clothes and accent didn’t set him apart from everyone else, this is a blunt message – Carter is different from these Northern muppets. He has nothing in common with them. He doesn’t like them and he doesn’t respect them. He’s moved up in the world. This place is no longer his home.

An even more blunt way of illustrating Carter’s distaste with his old home is when he tells his brother’s girlfriend that the only reason he returned to ‘this craphouse’ was to find out who was responsible, as Carter certainly doesn’t believe that his brother’s death was an accident. But even though the Newcastle that is shown here looks grim and unglamorous, it does have its own beauty. It’s bleak and it’s industrial, but it oozes character. The locale adds tons of atmosphere to the film. As do the people. There are loads of great little details. For instance there's the cabaret singer in a pub Carter goes to. Large of frame and not in the least bit physically attractive, she croons her way through a song while flirting with patrons and kissing one or two of them. But then at the end a woman leaps at her and they get into a fight. This Northern town is a million miles away from the London Carter is now used to. It's lack of style and taste amuses him.

And one of the best scenes illustrates the differences between the two towns. There's a scene where Carter is talking on the phone to his girlfriend (who's played by Britt Ekland). He asks her what she's wearing and they begin having phone sex. But Carter is doing this in the presence of the owner of the B & B he's staying at. We see her in a rocking chair, rocking back and forth in the foreground as Carter coolly tells his girlfriend what he'd like to do her. But while his girlfriend is slim, blonde and attractive, the landlady is reasonably large and significantly older. However, this doesn't stop Carter from having sex with her. He's worked himself up and the landlady is easily seduced by the sleazy glamour of this confident, cruel Londoner. He's nothing like the men she's used to, so she can't resist him, even though it's clear he's a colossal wanker.

The morning after is amusing as well. The landlady asks Carter if he wants breakfast. He tells her she must be joking, probably appalled at the idea of them acting like some married couple. But then just as they begin to have sex again, some of Carter's colleagues sneak into the house. They have orders to take him back to London. And we see them enter the bedroom with the camera filming from under the bed. Therefore we see their feet in the bottom of the frame as the bed shakes above. It's a funny moment. But the scene gets even better when Carter finally realises that he and the landlady aren't alone. He slides off the bed, reaches under and grabs a large shotgun. And then completely stark bollock naked he leads the interlopers out of the house. Wisecracks are made ('Put it away. I know you won't use it.' 'The gun he means.') and we even have a shot from between Jack's legs with his cock precipitously close to entering the frame, but the highlight of the comedy is when Jack walks the men out into the street. The next door neighbour is innocently coming out to get her milk and then she drops it in fright. Which gun makes her jaw drop? We never know for sure.

But although the film is consistently amusing, it's also consistently violent. Carter doesn't let anyone get in the way of his quest for revenge. But one of the many great things about the film is that his motivation isn't as simple as it seems. Yes he cares for his brother, as shown in the eerie moment when he touches his dead brother's hand as he lays in a coffin in the living room, but he's not that upset by it. Hell, after seeing a moment of tenderness with his brother, we see Carter casually shaving as he peers down on his deceased sibling. Consequently, this mission of his seems more like an act of duty. If you're a gangster like Carter is, you can't let anyone fuck with your family. The people responsible have to be taken out, even if you didn't get on well with your kin. And this seems to be the case with Jack. We find out that he was sleeping with his brother's wife.

And this adds another level of complexity, as Jack's brother has a daughter, a teenager called Doreen. But instead of being his brother's daughter, she may be Jack's. And there are some appropriately awkward scenes between Jack and his possible daughter. Jack asks her what she's doing. She tells him that she's working in Woolworths. He says that that must be very interesting. They have no connection whatsoever, but they're obliged to indulge in meaningless conversations because they're blood. And because they're blood, and because Doreen might be his girl, Jack is heartbroken when he discovers that she's starred in a porno movie. We see Jack watching the film alone, sitting on a bed with a projector noisily turning over. And then we briefly see a tear run down his cheek. It's one of the few glimpses we get of his humanity. But then the tears quickly turn to violence.

We later find out that the reason Carter's brother was killed was because he found out about the movie and was going to grass the makers up to the police. So as a result his brother was roughed up, fed lots of alcohol and stuck in a car to make the death look like an accident. So now Carter not only wants to kill the person or persons who killed his brother, but he wants to kill the people who made the movie, too.

One of the most sadistic scenes is when Carter catches up with the man who actually fucked his niece. The man begs for his life and tells Carter everything he knows, but then Jack produces a knife. The man then gets on his knees and says that he didn't kill his brother. 'I know you didn't kill him,' says Jack as he stabs him in the gut. Nobody is going to get off the hook.

Even worse than this, though, is when Jack kills local businessman Cliff Brumby. Brumby is the man who showed the porno film to Jack's brother. Carter repeatedly smashes him in the face and then eventually dumps him over the side of a high-rise building where the fat bastard lands on a car that has a mother and child inside. This film doesn't exist in some consequence-free movieland. But at the same time, as far as Jack is concerned, they're just collateral damage. He has blinkers on. Nothing is going to get in his way.

Another piece of collateral damage is the death of Glenda. He sleeps with her and then discovers the porno movie. Enraged at what he sees and that this woman is part of it, he stuffs her in the boot of her car. But then after driving to the docks he gets involved in a shoot-out with his London colleagues. You forget about the girl during the brief action sequence, but then as the bad guys are running off they shout from the other side of the water that Carter's car needs a wash. The car is then rammed into the water where it sinks without a trace with the girl still in the boot. Seeing this, Carter barely reacts. There's nothing he can do about it now, and besides, as far as he's concerned, he probably thinks she got what was coming to her.

But the most shocking piece of violence occurs when Jack kills Margaret. Margaret is a streetwalker that Carter's brother falls in love with. But she won't commit to him and she doubtlessly steers Doreen into the sleazy world of blue movies - Margaret is one of the stars of the movie Carter watches. And so Carter drives her into the woods and then as he circles her in the glare of the car's headlights, he forces her to undress at gunpoint. He then calmly and methodically gives her an overdose and dumps her in a lake. What gives the scene it's power, and the film as a whole for that matter, is how casually it's filmed. And when I say casual, I don't mean the film makes light of violence - it's always very grim and dirty and nasty and not the least bit sexy or glamorous. Instead it's filmed very simply and matter-of-factly. The film never goes for false emotions.

And so with the film being so stark and grim and relentlessly nasty, you'd think it would warrant little attention. But while Carter is a complete bastard, it's impossible not to be on his side or not to root for him. Yes he's a wanker but his revenge has a perverse air of nobility to it. After all, he kills the person who murdered his brother and kills the people who took advantage of his niece. Hell, he even brings down a vice racquet. So he's kind of like the white knight taken to an extreme.

The end of the film sees Carter kill his brother's murderer by pouring whiskey down his throat and then smashing him with the butt of his shotgun. But then after experiencing a brief moment of joy, he's taken out by a sniper. It's the perfect ending for the film. Carter has burnt all his bridges. He has nowhere to go. And so he's coldly and efficiently despatched. And at the end we see his body lying on the beach, waves lapping over him. During the film Carter tries to fight the tide, but you can only go so far before fate catches up with you. And the music at the end amplifies how hollow Carter's victory is. Yes he killed his brother's murderer, but the world is going to continue exactly as it had before.

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