Forget Carter

I’m not convinced Director Stephen Kay knows what he’s doing, other than it probably looked good on paper.

Get Carter is yet another remake of an older film of the same name, both starring Michael Caine. Not having seen the original film, I can only comment on this one. And as it stands, Sylvester Stallone’s film is a mess.

It’s a shame too, because I went in expecting a Payback gritty crime drama. What I got was a lot of stiff acting and inanimate scenes. I found that ironic given that there was a fair amount of action scenes. Choreography goes a long way.

The action in question is an odd creature though. Director Stephen Kay’s style is somewhere between noir and stop-action photography. For instance, he has plenty of underexposed poorly-lit shots and as the film progresses, he cuts frames out of scenes. One gets the impression that Kay was aspiring to an arty level of editing, like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, or Pulp Fiction.

It doesn’t help matters that there’s a decided lack of expertise involved here. I’m not convinced Kay knows why he’s using these various techniques, other than it probably looked good on paper. What’s worse, as the running time builds, so does the number of weird distracting cuts. Especially disappointing is the wasted talent in fight scenes between ex-boxer Mickey Roark and ex-Rocky Stallone.

But on top of that, the story here is nowhere near as sophisticated. There are no grander elements of noir or intrigue, no revealing depths of humanity. Just a mob hit man trying to do good for his own family.

All the standard symbolism is in plain view for dramatic connect-the-dots. Kay turns on the rain machines for the funeral of Stallone’s brother. Could this mean we’re to feel sanguine with the characters? And don’t get me started on the vacuous dialog. We know essentially nothing of Stallone’s character nor his motivations. From the sound of it, I would venture to say that Stallone didn’t either.

There are many scenes where he mopes about and mumbles bewilderingly (even for Stallone) as if he had no clear direction. I know, I know, this is Rocky we’re talking about. But I don’t care what you say, Oscar was a great movie and he proved his acting ability in Cop Land! Get Carter could have been a good role for him. That it wasn’t is no fault of Stallone’s.

There are pivotal scenes between Carter and his sister-in-law Gloria (Miranda Richardson) that are completely left underdeveloped. Why? When she asks him why he’s here, Jack can’t ever vocalize his reasons. The audience has a clue. He’s obviously there to right some wrongs, but more importantly to perhaps make one good thing of his life. To do some good.

It’s clear that Carter isn’t a man of words. After all, that is his job. What’s infuriating is that his family hasn’t ever come to terms with this and refuses to see what he’s trying to do for them. When did he and his family become so estranged? We never get the answer.

Other films have done a better job with this sort of character dilemma. Think of Russell Crowe’s sorrowful silent type in The Insider. There, director Michael Mann spent ample time developing his introverted character, crucial for Crowe since he had so few lines. Another film that allowed the lead character to speak volumes without dialog Woody Allen’s Sweet and Lowdown. In Carter, Stallone isn’t given enough time between fist fights to do the necessary self-discovery.

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