Tagline: The Truth hurts
Synopsis: A mob hit man returns home for his brother’s funeral and gets more than he expected when he discovers foul play. Out for revenge, he struggles to befriend his brother’s daughter as friends from the past force him to settle old debts.
Meat & Potatoes: It’s interesting when you do a search for the film Get Carter that you mostly end up with links to the 2000 film starring Sylvester Stallone, directed by Stephen T. Kay. It is as though 1971 was forever ago and I guess it is for some, but if you do just a bit more digging you’ll unearth the original film of the same title, starring Michael Caine, written and directed by Mike Hodges and based on the 1969 British novel, Jack Returns Home by Ted Lewis. I have a bit of a bad taste in me mouth when it comes to remakes, films revisited by blossoming and not-so-blooming filmmakers who decide digging up a gem from years past, sometimes before said auteur was even born or better – in diapers, is a sound idea. In the case of Get Carter, however, I’m surprised and appreciative of the effort – perhaps because this isn’t a shot-for-shot remake in the fashion of say Gus Van Sant‘s 1998 doomed from the start film Psycho – which I deplore with teeth clenched and fingers digging at the off switch on the tele – me takes a deep breath, steady as she goes like, regaining me composure.
I caught Get Carter(2000) the other night and decided to give it another whirl. The first time I screened the film must have been around the time it had just slipped from the radar into movie limbo – also known as dismal-returns-at-the-box-office-hell. I know what you’re thinking, filmmaking is a business that expects returns on investment first and art sometimes later, but in the case of films that I’d watch again, well this is one of them for more reasons than one. Sylvester Stallone IS Jack Carter, a little uptight and out of ‘the times’ with his tailored suit and Cadillac. He’s cut in all the right places though, like a wedge used to open things up as much as keep them sealed shut. In this, the rare instance where the shortcomings of an actor play to the character they are portraying, Stallone checks in with real flaws and character flaws in check. I’m reminded of the successful marriage of actor Keanu Reeves with his character, Neo in The Matrix franchise – Reeve’s stilted, best described as emotional-range-limited delivery was underscored by the dour world of the story. I’m not a betting man but if I were, I’d wager most audiences never connected Reeve’s as Neo with Reeve’s as Ted Logan of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure in 1989 – especially after The Matrix became a box office juggernaut. Sure, Stallone has made his share of bad movies, but who hasn’t? Before you go spouting off name after name of actors you believe have never made such movie stinkers, remember that Stallone has been around a long time as a writer, director, producer, and actor. How can one so easily dismiss the Rocky AND Rambo franchise that he built? Now I’m not suggesting that Stallone’s career be granted a get out of jail free card, given cinematic faux pas films like Rhinestone(1984), Over The Top (1987) and Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot(1992) but it is impossible to deny his impact on cinema and society with a career that includes 50 films and spans 40 years.
I don’t care much for the reviews of this film. If you’re like me, you’ve read them. You’ve exposed yourself to the slippery slide of words, of over-active expectations based on which film did what and how much money was collected from domestic and international box offices. Many reviewers return to the original and claim that it was a far cry better because it was authentic and gritty, choking with verisimilitude that oozed out of the movie screen and settled like bone marrow-jelly around your ankles. What strikes me fancy is how wrong they are. I posit that Get Carter 2000 is closer to today’s American audiences than Get Carter 1971 – not a bunch of movie critics interpreting what audiences like or don’t like. I also don’t believe box office receipts are the sole determination of a good film, either. Get Carter 1971 is a British crime caper film that becomes an American revenge drama twenty-nine years later; clear enough. If you ask me, I’d say watch this one, the 2000 remake by Stephen T. Kay starring Sylvester Stallone, Miranda Richardson, Rachel Leigh Cook, and a nice cameo by Michael Caine who starred in the 1971 picture of the same title. Of course I have to mention Mickey Rourke here, perhaps just shy of losing the good looks that carried many memorable performances, who delivers in spite of a shallow role with his trademark wounded bravado. I’d suggest you watch this film because of the very palpable visual style at work, the calculated ramping up of the undertone of the story and characters that achieves, in the least, a film that has been updated for contemporary audiences. The original Get Carter of 1971 would not settle in the soft bellies of American audiences these days and Kay understands this. His intention was always to find a visual way of separating his film from the original while simultaneously adding layers to the characters and story. He elevates this Jack Carter from self-reliant mob hitman to disconnected relative, a grieving uncle to his brother’s daughter who desperately needs him. Stallone’s Carter is conflicted – does he exact a necessary and appropriate punishment on everyone involved with his brother’s death or keep it together and help his grieving family? I’m invested at this point because there are three-dimensional characters in place as the story, however sheet-thin and flimsy, unfolds around them. I mean lets face it, this is a revenge story and as such a tired sub-genre in the genre of the crime film. But with believable, thought out characters we have someone to follow around even though we feel every plot point like those warning strips on the Bay Bridge alerting us that the S-curve is up ahead. If you’ve seen the first film and experienced the relentless scenes of violence where hitman Jack Carter takes his revenge, you’ll discover that the violence in Kay’s movie has been softened to a certain degree. This isn’t Tarantino‘s crime drama Reservoir Dogs nor does it portend to be something of an homage to the stylized violence of a Sam Peckinpah movie. Whereas Michael Caine’s Jack Carter of 1971 seems purposefully one-dimensionally bad, good at being a hitman and little else, Stallone’s Jack Carter of 2000 navigates the story through strained relationships and his own sense of distance from a life he left a long time ago. Kay wants to balance the physical Jack Carter with an emotional one which has been buried, due in part to the nature of his work. It is only after the suspicious death of Jack’s brother that he is afforded a way back into his family – even when they seem less than enthusiastic about welcoming him back in.
Bits & Bites: Catch the original Get Carter trailer starring Michael Caine here.
Google bits and what have you.
Warner Bros. official site.
The Closer: Get Carter(2000) is an American crime drama starring Sylvester Stallone as a hitman with a past who returns home after the death of his brother. When he discovers foul play he sets out to take revenge on anyone who might have had a hand in his brother’s death. As a genre film the set up is pretty standard, a revenge story with marginally memorable but no less successful characters bumping about to make the wrong things right and the right things, well more right. Strong supporting performances highlight Stallone as an aging hitman with a past as director Stephen Kay shapes the original 1971 British film of the same title for modern audiences. Keep your expectations in your other pants and watch this.