'What would Jesus say?' demands the tapestry mounted over the shabby rooming house bed which, as Jack Carter (Caine) surmises upon his return home from London, has 'seen some action in its time'. The question goes unanswered. Christ has forsaken the grimy muteness of Newcastle, 1971, just as surely as he was airlifted out of Rome in La Dolce Vita a decade earlier - and though they share initials, Carter certainly won't be filling his shoes. A dapper, domineering angel of vengeance, he stands a head above his fellow hoods, but not apart from them. This is movie modernism British-style. The occasional stylistic flourishes suggest the imported influence of the New Wave, the brief bursts of sex, violence and soundtrack funk offer a trendsetting '70s take on the gangster movie. But its prime virtue now, in 2004, looks like its depiction of a nation slowly made to face its own moral and physical dilapidation, hope and glory gone way down and out. Like the train journey opening the film, Mike Hodges' debut offers a tunnel vision of this landscape. He shoots it cold, sparse and ambivalent, the terse, gnomic plotting and dialogue doubtless contributing to the allure of what might otherwise be a relatively plain genre movie. Refusing ever to dwell, it cuts sharp rather than deep, but sharp enough.