Cult Movies: Crime classic Get Carter back in cinemas and on Blu-ray in 4K restored form

Caine crackles in crime classic Get Carter
Ralph McLean

Get Carter

IN THE seedy world of the classic British gangster film there are many show-stopping central performances to savour.

Just think of Richard Attenborough's chilling turn as child faced, ice hearted hoodlum Pinkie Brown in Brighton Rock (1948), Bob Hoskins' proto-Thatcherite mobster Harry Shand raking in the cash in The Long Good Friday (1980) or Ben Kingsley's utterly terrifying creation, Don Logan, the hair-trigger gangland boss in Sexy Beast (2000) for starters. All scary, all unforgettable but none of those beautifully crafted characters, to my eyes at least, can hold a sawn off shotgun to the majesty of Michael Caine in Get Carter.

Director Mike Hodges' 1971 masterpiece returns to the big screen in a stunning new 4K restoration print at the QFT Belfast from tonight, and there's never been a better time to reacquaint yourself with British gangland's finest hour-and-fifty minutes on celluloid.

Caine is Jack Carter, an underworld enforcer who, against the wishes of his London crime bosses, decides to return to his home town of Newcastle to find out what really happened to his mild-mannered brother Frank, who's been killed in mysterious circumstances.

What the sharp suited hit man discovers when he arrives up north is a grim tale of corrupted family loyalties, sleazy regional crime syndicates and raw and bloody revenge.

Caine is simply stunning as the cold eyed killer who uncovers the horrible secrets that led to his brother's death. That famous Caine stillness is apparent throughout and he delivers both the visceral and the emotional scenes with seemingly effortless ease.

He's ably assisted, of course, by a fine cast of British character actors, including Ian Hendry and playwright John Osborne, who slimes his way onto screen as the softly spoken northern crime lord Kinnear – but this is Caine's film from start to finish.

The crackling dialogue nails the nastiness at every turn, at once funny, quotable and chilling in equal measure. The direction makes the most of the mundane settings to bring us violent dancehall assaults and Western style shoot outs in deserted docklands whilst also having the wit to cut to a close-up of a screw being turned on a coffin lid as awkward family conversations play out in the back ground. It's a film that never stops turning the screw until it's final bloody denouement.

Hodges ensures that the story, adapted from the Ted Lewis hard-boiled crime novel Jack's Return Home, rattles along at a cracking pace, the carefully crafted cinematography of Wolfgang Suschitzky paints a picture of pre-gentrification Newcastle that's truly beautiful in an utterly bleak kind of way, and Roy Budd's unforgettable score twists its snake-like way into your head from the first moment you hear it.

The BFI have done a sterling job on this director-approved restoration. It's never, in all the many re-issues it's enjoyed down the years, looked as pin sharp and grimly glorious as it does here. A bleak but beautiful study of gangland violence and its consequences, Get Carter remains a true masterpiece.

:: Get Carter screens at QFT Belfast from tonight and is available on BFI Blu-ray from July 25.

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