THE CRITICS: CINEMA: ALSO SHOWING

Get Carter (18) Mike Hodges; 112 mins Among Giants (15) Sam Miller; 94 mins Heart (18) Charles McDougall; 85 mins Other Voices, Other Rooms (12) David Rocksavage; 98 mins Finding North (15) Tanya Wexler; 95 mins August 32nd on Earth (no cert) Denis Villeneuve; 112 mins American Perfekt (15) Paul Chart; 95 mins Manon des Sources (PG) Claude Berri; 120 mins Citizen Kane (U) Orson Welles; 119 mins
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The Independent Culture
There are a number of films that make people's eyes glaze over at the very mention of the title. Mike Hodges's Get Carter is one of them. (Reservoir Dogs is another, and so is Withnail and I.) Michael Caine's incarnation as a hitman who travels to Newcastle to avenge his brother's death shocked audiences with its graphic content in 1971, and still carries an 18 certificate.

It is, to my mind, an unconvincing film that impresses on one level: the enormity of its fallout. Look at the poster. Caine and his fancy-man cufflinks. Big hands holding a big gun, bearing down on us with his hair romantically swept back, a curl escaping the Brylcreem and attempting to form on his forehead, his mouth held tight. The hit-man in British film has been defined by this image. These are men who have no desire to uncover the paradoxes within themselves, men who haunt every corner with a bitter serenity, men who kill as though it were the perfect one- night stand.

What is startling about this film is surely not the phone-sex scene between Carter and writhing baby moll Britt Ekland, or the violence (Hodges loves Carter to use his fist); it's Caine speaking in that soft, mellifluous way. He delivers his "f--- offs" with a calmness that passes for extreme confidence, as though he were borrowing these words and might decide never to give them back. Caine's voice is often aped, but few people can get the precision of the spaces he puts between his consonants. It's his spaces that terrify, not his strangled plosives.

The language and images of Get Carter, its amorality, its nostalgia, can be found in almost every British gangster film since. The location is central. In Get Carter - the first film to set itself on the Tyne - Newcastle never looked so miserable: a place of metallic bridges and knickers on lines in the drizzle. The city is everywhere - you feel it just outside the window, can picture it clearly, even in the dark. Then, in The Long Good Friday (1979), Bob Hoskins (whose line "Colin never hurt a fly. Well, only when it was strictly necessary" is pure Get Carter) sails up and down the Thames gazing at the wharfs; in The Krays and Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, the East End rises up damp and keen. It's as though the place itself might consume these people, reveal them as small, so they're not just taking on their enemies, but architecture, matter, history. Get Carter has no interest in character. Who the hell is Carter? He's a cockney from the Tyne, who wants to avenge the murder of a brother he never liked. He doesn't make any sense whatsoever, which is why some people love him so much. Carter smells of a psychopath, and we love a nutter. But only when they're men.

Among Giants was written by Simon Beaufoy before he came up with The Full Monty. Pete Postlethwaite plays Ray, a working-class rock-climber who sometimes does dangerous jobs to pay the bills. He and a team of labourer friends are commissioned to paint 15 miles of electricity pylons stretching across the Yorkshire moors in three months. They have little hope of finishing the job without an extra hand, so Ray hires Australian hiker Gerry (Rachel Griffiths), and the two are soon sharing a bed.

It is delightful to see Postlethwaite in a romantic role. His cheeks, two miniature crimson apples, fill the screen: I don't think I've ever seen him really smile before. This alone makes for a delicate, kind film, more concerned with communication than most. But it doesn't make the most of its potential tensions, and there is always a sense of things broken, things hopeless, things lost, which makes the whole exercise feel like a long sigh.

Heart is the first feature film from Jimmy McGovern (Cracker, The Lakes). It co-opts to a preposterous degree his barking obsession with revenge. Christopher Eccleston plays a man fixated by his wife (Kate Hardie) and her affair with a vile Welsh writer (Rhys Ifans). In a fit of pique Eccleston has a heart attack, and his heart is replaced by that of a young man killed in a road accident, son of a lonely Catholic single mother (Saskia Reeves). The film ends in such blood and tears that it seems McGovern must have read John Ford's 1633 melodrama 'Tis Pity She's a Whore (daggers, feasting, envy, sex) before slamming into the keyboard.

Truman Capote's Other Voices, Other Rooms, his first novel, exhibits his incongruous capacity for both light-hearted camp and emotional terrorism. Thirteen-year-old Joel is summoned to a decaying plantation estate in America's deep south to meet the father he never really knew. There, he grudgingly makes do with the company of a trembling blonde and her debauched, peculiar cousin Randolph (Lothaire Bluteau). Although the film's setting - a sprawling house in extremis - is fascinating, each adult character behaves as though auditioning for the role of Blanche Dubois ("Randolph! You have forgotten maa birthday ..."). Bluteau is particularly - and surprisingly - undisciplined.

Finding North is an eager but unnecessary little film which follows a Jewish girl's infatuation with the gay man she saves from suicide following the death of his lover. The pair wind up in Texas, where each facet of both gay and straight pomposity is worked to death. August 32nd on Earth has a young woman asking her best friend to impregnate her. They take a taxi to the Utah Salt Flats to do the deed, where the French-Canadian director, Denis Villeneuve, gets stuck into images of sweeping minimalism and far-off beauty. The film engages with its very visual notions of loss of contact, but remains forgettable. And American Perfekt is about an ostensibly decent doctor (Robert Foster) who meets a young woman (Amanda Plummer) and a travelling magician (David Thewlis). The next thing we know, it's motels and worried sisters, Psycho-style; it's altogether hackneyed and insincere.

Claude Berri's Manon des Sources follows the re-release of Jean de Florette last week. The first film was a poem to colour, but this is devoted to Emmanuelle Beart and her immense eyes. More sentimental, neater than Jean de Florette, this is still a fine piece of work, pouring Berri's two-film tale into the most sensual of phials.

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