Get Carter (2000)

screenshot from Get Carter

Directed by: Stephen T. Kay
Screenwriter(s): David McKenna
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, John C McGinley, Michael Caine, Alan Cumming, Miranda Richardson, Mickey Rourke, Rachael Leigh Cook, Rhona Mitra
Genre: Gangster / Thriller / Remake
Country: USA
Running time: 1h 42m
Rating: 2 out of 10

On the plus side, Get Carter (2000) opens with the familiar haunting Roy Budd theme, here re-interpreted to good effect by Bond composer David Arnold. But, we also get a pretentious quote which misses the point of the source novel and the original film, and undercuts the film entirely:

That’s all we expect of man, this side of the grave: his good is knowing he is bad.

The action has moved from London and Newcastle to Las Vegas and Seattle. Stallone is Jack Carter, a mob enforcer in the old Vegas tradition of breaking knuckles. His immediate boss is Con (John C McGinley), but his big boss is an uncredited James Gandolfini, who appears in voice only, shot from the side and behind like the early Bond Blofelds. Much to their annoyance, Carter scampers off to Seattle when he hears that his brother, Richie, has been killed. The official line is that he crashed his car while drunk, but Jack already thinks it’s murder before he’s heard the details and he begins investigating.

There are various problems with the updated Get Carter, but most of them are down to the choices of its director, Stephen T Kay (TV's Covert Affairs, The Punisher). Sylvester Stallone is actually capable of heartfelt, low-key performances, as we saw in the original Rocky and in Cop Land. But the entire cast here are reflecting the director’s clear preference for style over substance. Kay’s visual approach is to shoot at bizarre diagonal angles with lots of annoying jump cuts, like NYPD Blue on its worst day, but without that series’ defining moral centre. His Seattle is a dark, rainy place of danger and scumbags, but it doesn’t have any sense of foreboding. It feels as authentic as the backdrop to a late 1980s music video.

The bright spots in the movie – and they are few – are Miranda Richardson as Richie’s widow, Mickey Rourke as the local drug dealer and David Arnold’s score, which does more than the director can to evoke the mood of the piece. Poor Michael Caine as Cliff Brumby looks lost and almost constantly perplexed.

Screenwriter David McKenna sticks fairly close to the original script (often very close in dialogue terms) but he – or, possibly more likely, the US studio bosses – decided that the film couldn’t maintain the original downbeat ending and so this Carter is a story of redemption and not revenge. Which comes back to the opening quote again. Get Carter was (is) a morality play. There is no good and no redemption.

If there were no original with which to compare it, it would merely be a middling to poor gangster flick. Certainly US audiences, with very little knowledge of the original, stayed away from it in their droves, and it made only $14m back against its $40m budget. But there is an original and the remake can’t help but come up short on almost every level.


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