Friday, April 13, 2012

The Path Of Vengeance

Get Carter(1971)
Director: Mike Hodges
Cast: Michael Caine, Ian Hendry, Britt Ekland

The 1970s was the golden age for cynical and mean-spirited cinema. This was the decade that saw many of the most violent and controversial films ever made, including Dirty Harry(1971), Death Wish(1974), Taxi Driver(1976) and Bring me the head of Alfredo Garcia(1974). Among the best of these dark and violent pictures was the film that practically rejuvenated the British crime film, as well as setting a standard for many revenge films to follow, and that was Get Carter(1971).
The film is quite unlike it's American or Italian counterparts, employing a more subtle, though no less brutal take on the action film, combining artistic sensibilities with a certain rawness that cannot be duplicated today. Despite numerous imitations and an unnecassary remake in 2000, this remains the best crime picture of it's kind.

Get Carter eschews most of the exposition brought on my mainstream cinema. Jack Carter(Michael Caine) is one mean mother and is almost devoid of humor and friends. Even the sexy girlfriend(played by the sexy Britt Ekland) is kept largely offscreen and at a distance. Carter is a London gangster who is out to avenge the death of his brother, so he ventures to the town he's from and gets entangled in a whole web of corruption that finds his brother murdered after trying to nab a porn racket that had employed his daughter, an underage girl. Caine is no ordinary vigilante as he goes about, slowly gathering information, much like the 40s noir protagonists, putting the puzzle together, before enacting revenge most brutal. Some of the most brutal scenes involve Cain roughing up a babe he's just laid, taking a bath, trying to drown her in an effort to get information and stabbing a guy in the gut, just because he knew about his brother's death. Caine is brutal and efficient, going about his business, before setting up a trap that brings the entire industry to his knees. However, as he tracks down the final man responsible, in an unforgettable conclusion through a beachside rock quarry, a hitman has been called out to finish Carter. After he has his final revenge and is ready to move on, Caine is shot in the head by the expert killer, one of the most uncompromising and brutal conclusions in film history, and something one would not likely encounter in the escapist action fare of today.

Get Carter is a brilliantly subtle picture, able to both shock and entertain than a dozen more exploitive pictures, could hope to. Director Hodges writes and shoots the film with an undercurrent of dark comedy and suppressed emotion. Caine's character is hardly a warm sort, but is allowed for more emotion and humor, than one would expect from such a movie. Such scenes like Caine offering money to his niece, the wonderfully photographed phone sex scene with Britt Ekland and his tearful discovery of the porn footage, add immeasurably to the development of the character and the plot. We may not condone, but we understand the character's actions and that's important to the success of the story. Caine may be playing a bastard, but we are firmly on his side and there's no doubting that what has been created is one of the truly iconic characters of violent cinema.
Caine is just perfect here, providing a certain type of charisma that had rarely been glimpsed since the days of James Cagney, as a tough kind of character that we can root for. The rest of the cast add to the gritty atmosphere, no one ever appearing too condescending or out of place in the context of the material. Eric Paice and Cyril Kinnear make particularly cringe worthy slimeballs worth hating.
Several scenes in this picture could hardly be filmed today, in our overly sensitive, politically correct world. These in particular are very graphic scenes like Caine force feeding drugs to a naked woman that he plans to use to send the porn king to jail, among the consistent misogyny and violent behavior.

This film has been ripped off or borrowed from several times throughout the years, and Caine himself went back to the spirit of the character in the recent, Harry Brown(2009). Yet, nothing has ever really captured the same gritty quality of this film, nor has anyone matched it's entertainment value. Part of the problem is that the film stock, the look of the picture, is virtually impossible to pull off today, along with the haunting, influential music score, which has not been tainted by pop music. Of course, the acting style is also something that cannot be duplicated either, especially in this age of mannered performances and an increasingly younger cast. It's the reality of the picture that makes it stick, not just it's graphic depictions of violence. The pull of the story and the power it holds will continue to inspire, decades after many of the so-called "tough" films of today, fade from memory. Take no substitutes, because like a few of it's contemporaries, Get Carter is the real deal and they don't make 'em like this anymore, which is our loss.

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