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50 Years Later: Get Carter

20 March 21 words: George White

Does Get Carter get a good review fifty years on? More or less...

Director: Mike Hodges
Starring: Michael Caine, Ian Hendry, Britt Ekland
Running time:
112 minutes

Having already picked up an Oscar nomination for Alfie and uttered one of the most famous lines in cinematic history in The Italian Job, 1971 saw Michael Caine take on one of the most morally ambiguous roles of his illustrious career in Get Carter - as he sleeps with whoever he meets, kills his enemies without remorse and stops at nothing to get what he wants. 

Get Carter follows gangster Jack (wait for it) Carter as he makes the trip from London to Newcastle to investigate the mysterious death of his brother, who supposedly perished in a car accident. As he journeys from scumbag to scumbag in search of answers, the truth is slowly revealed - leading to an inevitably bloody and violent end. 

This is very much Caine’s film, the audience following his character’s every move as he goes on the hunt for the facts. And while on the surface he is asked to do very little besides act as a cold-blooded killer, he manages to add depth to his self-proclaimed villain of a lead.

At no point is Jack glorified or his actions justified - and rightly so - but certain moments show there is more to the man than just anger and bloodlust. One particular scene, in which Jack finally uncovers the reason for his brother's death, is particularly powerful.  

Despite the protagonist's propensity for violence, Get Carter also resists the urge to become a full-throttle, action-packed mobster movie. Writer-director Mike Hodges’ willingness to sit in scenes for a few beats creates a more solemn, almost melancholic feel to the film in the opening hour, emphasising the mood of the main character as he faces up to tragic circumstances. And when violence is used, it is often gritty and raw - only rarely 'sexed up' to glorify the events on screen. 

With Caine in fine form in the lead role and a sharp, intelligent script this remains a solid crime thriller even fifty years on

The impressive performances of its cast, including some unnerving displays from Bryan Mosley and John Osborne as rival mob bosses, and a sharp script make sure any slower scenes remain engaging. At no point does the film feel sluggish, the tight 1h50 runtime excellently paced throughout. 

When the more outright action scenes do arrive, though, they definitely fail to hold up five decades later. Poor make-up design is excusable given the release date, but the over-choreographed nature of any sort of major piece is disappointing, with some fight scenes and chase sequences so well-rehearsed the stage directions may as well appear on screen. 

The decision to set the film in Newcastle and then hire almost no actor with the ability to even attempt a convincing Geordie accent is also a strange one, and is so noticeable it almost breaks any immersion in the story. When an (attempted) accent is so poorly executed that it makes Michael Caine’s voice seem almost middle-of-the-road, you know things haven’t gone to plan.

Although not flawless, though, Get Carter is a sophisticated, interesting and entertaining member of the inconceivably long list of big screen gangster movies. With Caine in fine form in the lead role and a sharp, intelligent script keeping the audience engaged even in slow periods, this remains a solid crime thriller even fifty years on.

Did you know? Following this movie's release, barmen in Newcastle got sick of being asked for drinks "In a thin glass!"

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