Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Get Carter Works Best With Its Blocking And Its Michael Caine Lead Performance

Michael Caine has done a little bit of everything in his decades of on-screen performances. He's played the best version of Ebenezer Scrooge in The Muppet Christmas Carol, he's done dark dramas, he's done goofy genre fare, there isn't an avenue of cinematic storytelling that Caine hasn't traipsed down. His extensive experience as an actor even extends to the world of gangster cinema. Caine headlined one of the most famous 20th-century British gangster movies with 1971s Get Carter. A cult classic that ended up being a favorite among filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino, it still endures to this day as one of many peoples go-to pick for Caine's best work as a leading man.

We begin Get Carter by meeting our titular lead character, Jack Carter (Michael Caine). He's a gangster with a nasty reputation behind him, this right here is the kind of guy you don't want to cross lest you have some kind of twisted death wish. This means everybody in his old hometown of Newcastle should be quaking in their boots right because Carter is coming home. Carter's brother recently died in a car accident in Newcastle, a turn of events that's aroused Jack's suspicions. He suspects his brother was actually murdered and he intends to find out who was responsible for this grisly affair.

Part of the grand tradition of other cinematic revenge stories like Death Wish or John Wick, Get Carter is interestingly devoid of action mayhem for much of its runtime. Carter's prowess is mostly something conveyed rather than seen as the most violent act he commits in the first half of Get Carter is bopping someone over the head with a large stick. This lack of on-screen carnage establishes Get Carter as something that's more about generating a foreboding mood than indulging exclusively in gore and karate chops. Carter may not be kicking anyone's teeth in yet but it's made clear from the first scene of Get Carter that he's capable of doing just that. All he's gonna need is some concrete answers before he unleashes hell on people who have done his brother wrong.

The subdued nature of Get Carter is interesting to see play out, especially given how its not a route usually taken by these revenge thrillers. Such titles tend to be all about providing catharsis both for the protagonists and the viewer in dishing out constant violent justice to on-screen baddies where Get Carter takes its sweet time getting there. It's a bold move on the part of writer/director Mike Hodges but it doesn't fully work as well as intended. There just isn't enough meat on the bones of either the characters or the themes of Get Carter to justify the slow pacing. Such temperament suggests the audience should be in a state of contemplation while watching the movie, but there's just not enough to contemplate when it comes to the story of Get Carter.

While the measured pacing of Get Carter doesn't quite work on a story level, it does work well on a visual level. Hodges opts here primarily for wide shots that allow multiple characters and even rooms to be seen at the same time. Frequently, such shots are used to show Jack Carter getting the upper-hand on an unbeknownst antagonist. This can be most clearly seen in a scene where Carter begins to put the pieces together about the players in an adult film while talking to a lady bathing in a room. Another memorable example of how Get Carter knows how to properly use every inch of the frame is when an antagonistic henchman seems to have gotten the drop of a female hotel manager only for Jack Carter to show up through another door placed on the far end of the shot.

These scenes are just two examples of the meticulously blocked sequences that abound throughout Get Carter and provide some of its most engrossing pieces of tension. Michael Caine also provides an ample amount of suspense in this crime thriller, particularly in scenes where Carter's presence, rather than his fists, is required to generate an intimidating presence. Caine nicely sells Carter as someone well-aware of his reputation and what kind of gruesomeness he can dish out. There isn't a trace of uncertainty in Caine's eyes, when he says he's going to stab you, he makes you believe it. Not everything about Get Carter worked for me but Michael Caine's lead performance certainly did get the job done and then some!

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