The central figure of this film, Jack Carter, is a Las Vegas gangster who returns to his roots in Seattle following the death of his brother. This was officially reported as an accident, but Jack suspects that his brother may have been murdered by members of the local criminal underworld. The film charts Jack's attempts to find out the truth and to take revenge.
This is, of course, a good example of Hollywood's cannibalising of the British and European film industries in its endless search for a good story. It is a remake of Mike Hodges's classic from 1971, one of the few great British gangster films. That film was one that grew out of, and yet at the same time transcended, a particular place and time, the North-East of England in the early seventies. This was a time of rapid social change in Britain, marked by increasing social mobility, growing permissiveness and relative prosperity, elements all reflected in the film. Like many of the best British films, it had a strong sense of place. Its fidelity to a real time and place was not a weakness but a strength, helping to establish it firmly in the realm of reality and to convey its major theme, the sterility and futility of the criminal lifestyle. Its view of the underworld acted as a necessary antidote to the tendency, very prevalent in the late sixties and early seventies, to glamorise criminals ("The Thomas Crown Affair), sentimentalise them ("The Italian Job") or mythologise them ("The Godfather").
Stephen Kay's film attempts to establish a similar sense of place to the original; the Seattle we see has a bleak, forbidding atmosphere, always shrouded in rain or mist. It has a much more star-studded cast than the original, with at least one reasonably good performance from a convincingly thuggish Mickey Rourke. Despite this, however, it is a far inferior film when compared with the original. The main reason is the way in which the character of Jack Carter has been changed. Michael Caine's Carter was, for all his sharp suits and fast cars, no more than a ruthless street thug, a poor boy made bad at a time when other poor boys were making good. Sylvester Stallone's character, by contrast, may have a rough exterior (Stallone plays him as outwardly impassive, with a gruff, emotionless voice) but beneath it he is one of the good guys. The plot has been rewritten to make Carter less brutal and ruthless and to allow him to survive at the end. The original was a morality play on (as another reviewer has pointed out) the theme of "those who live by the sword shall die by the sword". The remake is simply a revenge thriller with a hero whom the audience can root for.
This illustrates one of the perils of the remake. Kay's film has kept the title, the bare outlines of the plot and even some of the names of the characters, but completely fails to capture the spirit of the original. Moreover, it is unable to replace that spirit with anything new. If the film-makers had wanted to make an exciting goodie-versus-baddies revenge thriller, they could have chosen a better starting-point than the plot of a film made some thirty years earlier with a very different aim in mind.
It has become something of a tradition for remakes to feature cameo appearances by the stars of the original films. Martin Scorsese's "Cape Fear", for example, featured no fewer than three actors who had appeared in the earlier J. Lee Thompson version, Gregory Peck, Robert Mitchum and Martin Balsam. That, however, was a rare example of a remake that we as good as, or even better than, the original. Kay's "Get Carter", however, is not in the same class as Hodges's. It was, therefore, rather disappointing to see Michael Caine appearing in a remake that can only diminish one of his best films. 4/10