Film / Get Carter

"You're a big man, but you're in bad shape. With me it's a full time job. Now behave yourself."
Jack Carter

1971 British gangster film, starring Michael Caine as the title character, Jack Carter, a prominent London Gangster who returns to his hometown of Newcastle, England to find out who killed his brother. The work has become a classic in the gangster film genre. It was remade in 1972 (as Hit Man, with Bernie Casey and Pam Grier), and again in 2000 with Sylvester Stallone as the title character and Caine in a minor role, but neither version was successful.

The film itself is a deliberate Deconstruction of the gangster film genre it has become a classic of. Caine himself was determined to avert the feel good or comedy aspects of The Caper style gangster movie, in favour of a Darker and Edgier gritty realism, saying;

"One of the reasons I wanted to make that picture was my background. In English movies, gangsters were either stupid or funny. I wanted to show that they’re neither. Gangsters are not stupid, and they’re certainly not very funny."

Watching The Italian Job (1969) and then Get Carter, which Caine made back-to-back, shows the stark difference in the portrayal of gangsters in each.

This film provides examples of:

  • Adaptational Sexuality: Peter the Dutchman is a misogynistic homosexual in the book. These elements were not emphasised in the film, although the character is flamboyant and "camp".
  • Affably Evil: Cyril Kinnear is polite and good-natured when Jack breaks into his house, allowing him to watch Kinnear play poker and be entertained by his girlfriend.
  • All There in the Manual: Carter's shotgun has greater significance in the book, as it symbolises family ties and Carter's memories of more innocent times hunting with his brother.
    • The book also delves into the backstory involving Carter and Eric Paice, revealing that they were rival gangsters in London.
    • Albert Swift was a delinquent gang leader.
    • One particular reason why Jack hates Eric so much is his abusive treatment of his lover Anna (Audrey in the book).
  • Anti-Hero: Carter is a cold-blooded and remorseless killing machine who would be the villain in most movies, except here he's on a mission of vengeance against other gangsters.
  • Badass Boast: Carter gives one to Brumby. See the page quote.
  • Badass in a Nice Suit: Carter is quite dapper. He's from the big city, after all.
  • Badass Longcoat
  • Berserk Button: When Carter watches the porn flick...though this is fleshed out more in the novel, he's especially mad because Doreen may in fact be his daughter.
  • Big Bad: Cyril Kinnear.
  • Black and Grey Morality: Eric and his gang are ruthless sleaze mongers and Carter is a cold-blooded sociopath. Neither could ever be described as morally good.
  • Black Comedy: Any time that someone says "See you've still got your sense of humor, Jack..."
  • Brain Bleach: Carter's reaction when he watches the porn flick with his own niece in it.
  • Car Cushion: Brumby's death after he is beaten up by Carter.
  • Cat Fight: Carter is amused to see two women attacking each other.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The double-barreled shotgun that Carter held with him, although he never fires it once. Though at the end, he beats Eric to death with the stock.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: J, the assassin, turns out to be Kinnear's hitman. He himself appears earlier on in the opening scene, and later kills Carter himself at the end.
  • Cold Sniper: J, the assassin.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Carter and assassin "J" share a compartment together on the opening train journey.
  • Cool Train: The opening title sequence.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Carter finds time to weave some outstanding snark in between brutal murders.
  • Death by Adaptation: Cliff Brumby and Glenda go to the police in the novel, but are killed in the movie; Carter throws Cliff from a building, while Glenda is in the trunk of a car that gets pushed into the sea.
  • Death by Irony: Eric, who was responsible for Frank's death, forces a bottle of whisky down his throat before killing him in a car crash. So Carter, in retaliation, forces Eric to also drink a bottle of whisky before bludgeoning him to death.
  • Determinator: Nothing on earth will get in the way of Jack's quest for vengeance.
  • Disney Villain Death: Cliff Brumby was killed by Jack Carter this way.
  • Downer Ending: At the end, Jack himself gets killed by an assassin. Given what kind of anti-hero he is, however, this is to be expected.
  • Dragon-in-Chief: Eric.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Carter is a murderer. The porn tape is a Berserk Button, possibly because it might be his own daughter who's on the porn tape.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": The assassin himself was credited as "J" in the end credits.
  • False Flag Operation: Jack murders Margaret with a drug overdose and dumps her in a pond near Kinnear's mansion, plants a trail of her clothes then - after blackmailing Kinnear - tips the Police that there are drugs being passed around at his party. It works.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Eric Pace is polite to Jack when they first meet on screen, but (for reasons explained in the Trivia Tab) he's disguising his hatred quite well.
  • Force Feeding: What Carter does to Eric at the end.
  • Foreshadowing: At the horse-race meeting a punter takes one look at Carter, drops the food from his mouth and makes a sharp exit. The man is later revealed to be Albert Swift, informant and 'star' of the porn film Jack's niece is in.
  • Full-Frontal Assault: Carter fights some hitmen while buck naked.
  • Gayngster: Implied with Cyril, who was played by the homosexual writer John Osborne.
  • Grim Up North: Dear God.
  • The Hero Dies: Carter himself at the end.
  • Hypocrite: Jack is quick to denounce Brumby's daughter as being promiscuous as he kills him and claims that Doreen 'can't get away' with being in the porn film, yet Jack has no qualms in setting himself on his boss' wife and his rival mobster's girlfriend as the other man in two triangles. It's also not determined if Doreen feels that she was raped as she doesn't show that she's hiding anything from Jack throughout the film, and it's unknown if Jack confronts or consoles her about the film, as he has quite a lot of time to do so in between the gunfight on the boat and killing Margaret.
  • London Gangster: Carter is from Newcastle, but he moved to London to become a gangster. He now sports a Cockney accent.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: Frank's death.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Anna.
  • Mysterious Mercenary Pursuer: The assassin.
  • Naked People Are Funny: Carter brandishing a shotgun to clear his rented room of mobsters.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain!: Eric unwittingly murders Kinnear's girlfriend Glenda by backing the car that Carter was driving into the dock while she is still locked in the trunk. It is possible that Jack informs Kinnear of this to leverage him into selling out Eric.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Jack Carter's employers, the Fletcher Brothers, are clearly based on the Kray Twins.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Caine makes no attempt to hide his trademark Cockney dialect in spite of his character coming from Newcastle. This shows how completely Carter's new life in London has changed him.
  • No Name Given: The assassin out for Carter is identified only by his signet ring, which sports a J.
  • Not on the List: Jack punches a bouncer who says he's isn't in the list.
  • Oop North: Newcastle in all its grimy, pre-Iron Lady, early-1970s glory.
  • Revenge Before Reason: What eventually defines Carter himself.
  • Retirony: Jack's ultimate objective after seeking vengeance for his brother is to run away to South America with his boss's wife and his brother's daughter. This is negated much earlier than Jack's death as Eric boasts that Jack's boss has exposed the affair. It's not clear if that's the case though.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: The plot in a nutshell.
  • Sean Connery Is About to Shoot You: Michael Caine is About to Shoot You in the film's poster.
  • The '70s
  • Shout-Out: There's a Zulu shield hung up on Kinnear's wall, a reference to Caine's starring role in the film Zulu.
  • Silent Credits: This 1970s gangster flick ends with Jack Carter himself getting shot on a remote beach by an assassin after Jack got his revenge on his brother's killer, followed by ending credits with the only sounds being the waves crashing on the shoreline.
  • Staggered Zoom: Onto Jack as a shootout ends with Jack getting the drop on a Mook named Peter, right before Jack shoots Peter.
  • The Stoic: Jack almost never panics even when getting shot at.
  • Stranger in a Familiar Land: Carter's relationship with his hometown is quite different, ever since he left the place.
  • Sociopathic Hero: Murdering a woman via deliberate heroin overdose has to qualify.
  • Television Geography: A foot chase has the protagonists running from Blythe Staithes (in the county of Northumberland) onto the beach at Blackhall Rocks (in the County of Durham), a mere 35 miles farther south. The scene is the climax of the film.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: The "International Trailer" on the current UK DVD shows what happens to Margaret, Eric, Peter, Brumby and Albert.
  • Unbuilt Trope: The film feels at times like a brutal deconstruction of the Brit gangster flick that emerged in the late 90's due to directors like Guy Ritchie and Matthew Vaughan. The villains are shown as ruthless and incredibly sleazy, the killings are done in a very matter-of-fact manner with little blood and no dramatic tricks, it's set in bleak Newcastle rather than London, there is a complete absence of any pop soundtrack (apart from arbitrary karaoke songs) or any form of music and the lead character is cold-hearted and utterly ruthless, not shown as any better than the men he kills. Were it made today, it would almost certainly be a Genre Deconstruction. Yet it was made in 1971, long before British Gangster films became big.
  • The Voiceless: J himself only gets to talk one time in the movie, and he is talking with Kinnear on the phone.
  • White Shirt of Death: Carter stabs Albert Swift, who is wearing a white sweater, which makes the resulting blood all the more shocking.