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Chinatown
Year:
1974
Country:
USA
Genre:
Crime, Drama, Thriller, Mystery
IMDB rating:
8.3
Director:
Roman Polanski
Jack Nicholson as J.J. Gittes
Faye Dunaway as Evelyn Mulwray
John Huston as Noah Cross
Perry Lopez as Escobar
John Hillerman as Yelburton
Darrell Zwerling as Hollis Mulwray
Diane Ladd as Ida Sessions
Roy Jenson as Mulvihill
Roman Polanski as Man with Knife
Richard Bakalyan as Loach (as Dick Bakalyan)
Joe Mantell as Walsh
Bruce Glover as Duffy
Nandu Hinds as Sophie
James O'Rear as Lawyer
Storyline: JJ 'Jake' Gittes is a private detective who seems to specialize in matrimonial cases. He is hired by Evelyn Mulwray when she suspects her husband Hollis, builder of the city's water supply system, of having an affair. Gittes does what he does best and photographs him with a young girl but in the ensuing scandal, it seems he was hired by an impersonator and not the real Mrs. Mulwray. When Mr. Mulwray is found dead, Jake is plunged into a complex web of deceit involving murder, incest and municipal corruption all related to the city's water supply.
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Reviews
Yes, this really is the best movie ever...
From the first 10 minutes of the first time I saw this movie in the theatre, I've truly loved it, more any other movie I've ever seen. Why? Well, that easy, it's just so... PERFECT!

Obviously there are many other great movies, and many other movies I personally also love, but Chinatown has a real spell over me. Other fans have commented here on the story and the spellbinding way that the forlorn and utterly mysterious story unfolds. I certainly agree.

Chinatown's cinematography and editing? Yes, I agree again! IMO, it's breathtaking, with pacing so tight that I sit straight up thru the whole movie and my nerves become completely raw every time I watch, listen and FEEL it again.

I don't think anybody has commented yet on the great choice of the many supporting actors. Each one so well cast and very believable in their roles! You've got the entire cast credits list (thank you IMDb) so I won't list them here but there are so many memorable performances here! It would be unfair to highlight one, two or three! Good cops, bad cops, ugly rich, up-and-coming, downtrodden poor, the very honest and very crooked with all shades in between! Each and every role a character study in and of itself and together they make a living "time capsule" of the forties that we can revisit for generations to come.

And then there's that sound track which hooked me on great trumpet players and the Est Coast Jazz sound of the era. I just love that music and way it interweaves with the ongoing theme - it's perfectly united with the faithful and compelling use of the film-noir style.

I saw this movie first in Chicago and heck, back then I knew nothing about LA, though I've since moved to and lived in the area for years. Once relocated, I quickly discovered the historically interesting side to the story and then appreciated the movie from yet another compelling angle. No question, the plot is fundamentally sound with many totally unexpected and yet quite plausible turns. But I later understood that it's within the realm of believability from factual standpoint, as well as intellectually/emotionally.

Geez, I'll never forget that first confrontational scene at the Albacore Club! The study in absolute raw and evil power as masterly portrayed by John Huston. In the very same scene Jack Nicholson skillfully paints the subtleties of his cautious, cynical, small-time hustler character. The air crackles! I must have played this scene in my mind a thousand times. When I visited Catalina Island for the first time in about 1985, not knowing its significance to the movie, I walked by the Albacore Club (The Tuna Club in real life) and froze transfixed. I recognized it instantly of course, and I must have stood there gawking for 20 minutes not saying a word. I could literally HEAR the Chinatown theme - the memories were that clear and fresh!

In closing, I guess then what does it about Chinatown for me (why I feel so strongly that it is the very best movie of all) is that every facet of the movie construction, from the opening scene to the ending credits, somehow fits together in a homogeneous, complete and absolutely flawless way.

I find it fascinating to analyze the characters and their makeup. To imagine the reasons they did what they did. But there is NOTHING I would change. Nothing.
2004-06-28
"You may think you know what you're dealing with, but believe me, you don't."
In 1937 Los Angeles, a grasping tycoon (John Huston) takes control of the city's water supply and causes a drought, while a private eye (Jack Nicholson) takes on a case involving the tycoon's daughter (Faye Dunaway), which entangles him in a major scandal.

Chinatown is a brilliant mystery, written with an astute sense of narrative architecture and played to the hilt by a terrific cast, including Nicholson, who has never done better work than his portrayal of the insouciant Jake Gittes. It's a rare thriller, one that addresses itself to serious moral and public policy issues while remaining gripping, exciting and finally heartbreaking. In 1991, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."
2010-05-11
It's Chinatown
The way this movie was shot was so good. I learned about a few of the ways they took the advancement in technology in the 70's and used it in this movie, it all fit the time period though very well, like nothing to fancy all of it was just right. For example one of the techniques was using a hand-held camera to really get in on tight spots so you could feel as if you were with the characters as they experienced some moment. The acting by Faye Dunaway and Jack Nicholson was really great and the chemistry they had on screen was flawless. And the movie was supposed to take place in the thirties so you'd think they wanted to go artistic and make it black and white, but the color looked really good and suited the movie just fine. A really good movie overall.
2015-12-17
a classic film noir from the '70s
The moment you see those opening credits in monochrome brown-sepia, you know you are in for a treat. This is a film by someone steeped in the tradition of the best film noir, and though not a style one associates with Polanski, his sense of drama and of pacing, and his painstaking care to make every shot add to the overall atmosphere, is perfectly suited. Though lacking the distinctive low viewpoints, close-ups and heavy shadows of traditional film noir, this is one of the few later films which manage perfectly to capture the atmosphere and the understated tension of the genre.

The writing and the acting, too, is straight out of the best tradition of film noir. Robert Towne's excellent Oscar-winning script, written with Jack Nicholson in mind for the central character of LA private detective J.J.Gittes, is written entirely from Gittes' perspective (I don't believe there's a single scene in which he doesn't figure). If Bogart was the epitome of Chandler's Marlowe in the 40's, then Nicholson is a worthy successor, and I wonder whether Towne ever considered writing another screenplay around the same character. When I first saw this film when it came out, I hadn't seen Nicholson before, and I remember being just blown away (I didn't see Easy Rider until a couple of years later). Faye Dunaway and the superbly cast John Huston complete the triangle, and we only discover their relative roles in the mystery as Gittes gradually pieces the complex jigsaw together, which of course is just how it should be. The supporting actors are more than adequate, secondary to the story but never detracting from it, with Perry Lopez doing a great job as the struggling but confident lieutenant (who of course is a former colleague of Gittes).

But for me, Polanski himself is the star of this film (and I don't mean his nice little cameo part). I'm glad he wasn't tempted to shoot in black-and-white, though it wouldn't have been out of place -- the consistently washed-out colour so well delivers the sense of the heat and the desert (only the blue of the ocean and the bright lights of Chinatown itself stand out), and his choice of shot, variety of speed, and attention to detail never distract the viewer, nor detract from the acting and the unfolding tale. It's only after the film is over, when you sit back in admiration, that you realise there really wasn't a single moment when you were impatient to move on, or lost track of the plot, or felt a wrong note had been hit. I regard this, along with his recent superb version of Oliver Twist, to be his best works. And that's not an easy choice to make.
2010-11-21
Jake Gittes, Right Up There With Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe
In Chinatown, Jack Nicholson gets one of his best roles, definitely in the top five as Jake Gittes, a throwback private eye to the forties of Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe. Had Chinatown been made in the Forties Humphrey Bogart who played definitive versions of Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe would definitely have been cast in the role of Jake Gittes. Nicholson however is one worthy successor to Bogey.

Very little action takes place in Chinatown in Los Angeles and only some peripheral characters are oriental. What Chinatown is here is a metaphor for a place you don't want to go and a culture and way of life you cannot penetrate or understand. Back when Gittes was a cop he was stationed in Chinatown and always felt alien there. He couldn't do his job because he didn't understand the people.

Gittes goes back to Chinatown so to speak when he's hired by Diane Ladd to shadow her husband. It's the kind of peep job Nicholson is used to and he does. Later the husband turns up dead and it turns out Ladd was posing as the wife. The real wife Faye Dunaway shows up and threatens to sue him.

Nicholson keeps on digging and he comes up with a juicy political scandal involving a scheme to defraud essentially the whole city of Los Angeles with their water supply. But he comes up with far more than that involving Faye Dunaway's personal life.

The lead villain here is John Huston in probably his greatest role before the camera with only The Cardinal as a rival. Huston is Dunaway's father, a rich gazillionaire who can just about buy everything and everybody and usually does. But as it turns out he's far more malevolent than that, a truly terrifying evil soul.

Faye Dunaway does a great job playing a woman carrying one huge burden on her soul. Look for good performances by Perry Lopez as the dogged police lieutenant trying to keep everyone happy and Diane Ladd as the hapless fake Dunaway.

Chinatown is one timeless film and will be getting raves centuries from now.
2006-12-06
Quite good, but over-rated seems like......
Well, having bought the DVD of this lately, I finally sat myself down and watched Chinatown w/out any commercials. Thank you AMC. Anyways-just what exactly was this 'JaaaaCK' movie/throw-back to the '40's noir flix all about? Why is it praised to the high heavens? Got me.

Here's what's good: *Jack Nicholson. Reins in his scenery chewing and gives a terrific, focused performance ala Bogie or Mitchum. I liked this a lot.

*Stylish camera-work, period detail, etc. Polanski nails it.

*Supporting work by Lopez, Huston, Dunaway and Burt Young, all fine. Huston is clearly a scary SOB no doubting it.

*Involving plot, and Towne was right--water rights and reservoirs aren't quite the same as Maltese Falcons--they're believable and mean huge $$ to those who can corner the market.

*Downbeat ending. Yah sometimes the baddies win.

What's not so good: *Quite slow. This has that '70's d-r-a-g things o-u-t pace, you do wish they'd hurry parts of it along some.

*Polanski and his knife cameo. Like bad Joe Pesci. C'mon guys.

*Hated seeing Faye get shot.

*Dull sorta film overall. You sit and wait for something to happen, and besides a few fights or near drownings, nothing much does for long periods of time save for Jack being...Jaaaaack.

Overall--***1/2 outta ****, Godfather Too was better, but the Conversation, that was the best for '74.
2005-05-17
Marvelous
There is a word, impossible to spell, that describes the alignment of solar bodies like the planets when they all fall into place together. A similar word would describe this film. Everything about it is right. Polanski never directed a better movie. The performers, down to the lowest atmosphere person, are superb. The editing, the score, the sound, the decor, the dialog, all are just about flawless. The photography is peerless. The white garden apartments, the terra cotta roof tiles, the palms and desert sand are all painted with a faint gold, faintly ripe with false promise, like the oranges that bounce from Gittes' desperately speeding car in the northwest Valley.

Polanski deserves much of the credit. When Gittes surprises Evelyn Mulwray in her car, after he follows her to her daughter's house, her face slumps forward and beeps the horn briefly. Then, so faintly, we hear a few dogs bark in the background. Not only is the scene itself exquisitely done but it prefigures the ending, as does Gittes' remark earlier to Evelyn that she has a flaw in her iris. The movie is too good to deserve much dissecting. It stands repeated watching. If there is anything wrong with it, it is the serious and tragic ending that Polanski always insists on tacking on. Robert Towne was right and Polanski wrong in this case. Everything came together on this film. It's not only the best detective movie ever made; it's one of the best movies ever made -- period. A marvelous job by everyone concerned.

I have to add (6/27/05) that the word I mentioned in the first sentence is spelled "syzygy." Man, did I get enlightening email on that. I might as well add two other impressive features of this movie. (1) Polanksi takes his time. Example: Gittes sneaks into Hollis Mulwray's office and begins to go through the drawers of his old-fashioned wooden desk. As he slides each drawer out, Polanksi gives us a shot of their humdrum contents (checkbooks, magnifying glass, and so forth) and we can almost smell the heat and the odor of shellac and sawdust emanating from the wooden containers. The contents reveal nothing of importance in this case. But (2) sometimes irrelevant information crops up that resonates later in the film with its own echo. The detail might be just a word ("applecore") or an ordinary object (a pair of spectacles found in a pond, immediately after Gittes imitates the Japanese gardener's remark that the water is bad for the "glass.") Some of the references may be so consistent as to constitute a theme (water). None of this hits you over the head with its significance. It's all very neatly stitched together.
2002-01-30
This Is What Happens When You Find Out Who Runs Los Angeles
You have to get a little depressed when people with so much money are dreadfully unhappy!! "Chinatown" is a movie which ends up being an indelible display of how egocentric megalomania supersedes all other emotions! Such abominable behavior reflects a myriad of despicable qualities of many individuals which pertain to the abhorrent aspects of human nature. The director of this film, Roman Polanski, has had a tenuously depraved life. (Including his tragic marriage to Sharon Tate). This movie is considered to be Polanski's best film ever! "Chinatown" is based on a true story, one which inflicted a lot of suffering for the city of Los Angeles, and, the vast majority of it's citizens sometime back in the 1930's!! The intensity of agitation in this film is astounding!! Jack Nicholson's performance in this film is remarkable!! Faye Dunaway's performance as Evelyn Mulray is considered by some prominent movie critics, to be the 36th best acting performance in the history of movie making!! This does not surprise me, I felt that Faye Dunaway's performance in "Network" was the best acting performance I have ever seen!! The movie, "Chinatown" is about people who are unscrupulous and miserable!! Often times, character portrayals about people who are victims of their environment are usually depicted with the indigent or the oppressed, in the movie "Chinatown", the environmental victims were the wealthy and the powerful!! Hatefulness, callousness, not to mention the blatant disregard for hard working individuals, as well as their overall well being, all became second nature reactions with the hegemony of Los Angeles. (i.e. Noah Cross and a handful of pork barrel politicians). "Chinatown" emanates a subtle tolerance for lethal chicanery by making conspiracy, cover ups, and collusion complete and utter masterpieces of understatement. This film evokes a repugnant display of human intuition by merely divulging some simple, yet, clinically ruthless facts!! Accommodating plausibility translated to dollar signs with everyone in the film. Vindictiveness with all of these plutocratic and nefarious scoundrels in "Chinatown" ultimately relegated them to the precarious plight of having to reap what they've sown. Their recriminations became a proverbial case of too little too late. What wound up being the single most appropriate adjective for describing this film, was the cogently riveting one of POWERFUL!! At the end of this film all negative behavioral ugliness patterns propagated a disconcerting state of resonating despair. The directing in this movie is unbelievable. The acting is sensational. The cinematography and melodic genre in "Chinatown" is unprecedented, basically second to none!! Most critics rate "Chinatown" as one of the top twenty American films ever made, I agree!! One of Hollywood's best efforts to ever hit the silver screen!! Especially on account of itemizing the aggregate character assassinations of every main character in the film!!The movie "Chinatown" is AN ABSOLUTELY MARVELOUS CLASSIC OF ALL TIME!!
2008-11-08
The Best Neo-Noir Film!
This is a movie that pays great homage to the film-noir movies of the 30's and 40's. If this wasn't a color film with 1970's actors, I would have believed this film was made in 1940. This is certainly the best neo-noir film you could hope for. This is also the film that gave Jack Nicholson a long career in the movie business.

This film is pretty much a private detective who thinks he is investigating with an adultery case. However, that is just the beginning of all the mystery that is yet to come.

The acting is marvelous. I would expect great performances from the likes of Nicholson and Dunaway but their performances were just beyond greatness.

Another thing that stands out is the original screenplay by Robert Towne. This screenplay is perhaps why this movie is one of the best films ever made.

Overall, this is an Oscar-caliber film that is worth watching. Even if you're not a film buff, I would still check out this film. It's a bit long but you won't notice the time in Chinatown. I rate this film 9/10.
2012-07-22
A Dark, Twisted Trailblazer
A film that is more talked about than seen these days, Chinatown is nonetheless one of the most significant films ever made, and it sits at a unique precipice in cinematic culture. Starring Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, and somewhat hilariously, John Huston, it is the story of a private investigator sent to snoop on a cheating husband only to later find that husband turned up dead, setting off a chain of events that leads to the top being blown off a major conspiracy that runs deep into the roots of early 20th century Los Angeles.   It's a shame that the only part of the film the average film-goer knows about is the most famous line, "Forget it, Jake, it's Chinatown." That's a wonderful line, but out of context, what does it mean? Nothing. You could guess or even infer, but unless you've seen the film, it might as well be sitting out on an island. Even you know the general plot of the film, as I did before watching it, you don't get the full impact of the line.

Film quotes stick in the meat of popular culture not just because they're fun to stay or because they role off the tongue, but because they're built up to beautifully and because they hit with a force that sums up the emotions of the moment. Quoting them only works if those present know the film itself. Imagine how absurd it would sound to say, "May the Force be with you," to someone who's never seen Star Wars. They would get the gist of what you're saying, but they wouldn't get the reference or the connotations.

The "Forget it, Jake, it's Chinatown" line works much the same way. There are situations when it would be appropriate to say this, but there's no point if no one in your party has seen Chinatown. For those who have, that line conjures up so much rage, frustration, despair, cynicism and tragedy. It carries a lot of weight.

Neo-noir films are rarely happy affairs (the word noir even means black in French), but this film goes the extra mile. Back in 1974, the neo-noir film was rare. Traditional noir films had not been popular for some several decades, and even those were limited were the Hays Code and the culture of the time. This was a new animal altogether, and so as the film gets darker and the situation more disturbing, you end up feeling as revolted as Jack by the end. When the last night falls and you see the lights of Chinatown for the first time, you feel like you've come the end of an exhilarating, hideous, psychotic day and want it all to be swept away.

A lot of influences went into this film. There were old school noir influences, of course, but there were also influences from the then-cutting edge crime films of the day, as well as the psychological thrillers that had started to proliferate in the late 60's and early 70's. There are also literary influences; I was surprised to learn this was not based off a novel. It is very much a novelist's film.

But the most startling influence is that of Westerns. This works in two ways. First, the film takes place close to the turn of the century, a time not too far away from the settings of Westerns. The dark, cynical Westerns this film is most like took place in the 1880's, in the twilight of the West, after the land had been tamed. Second, the noir film had- at least from an American perspective- grown out of the Western: many of the same ideas, concepts, and perspectives are present. The noir was 'replaced' by the second wave of Westerns that came up during the 50s and 60's: Sergio Leone and like. In the 70's, the Western was in a Golden Age. Heaven's Gate had not yet come out. The genre was booming. America still had use for it, particularly in an era when we as a people were feeling rather lost and alone. Chinatown is neo-noir springing up from the second wave of Westerns, just like that second wave sprang up from original noir flicks.

The characters and acting in this film are first class, and despite some strange choices here and there, the plot pulls you in deeper into its black heart. This is a mystery in the truest sense of the word. There are so many layers to pull back in the seedy L.A. streets, so many secrets to carve out. The titular Chinatown is used to great effect, first as an idea, then as a place. The characters, particularly Nicolson, are perfectly cast.

This is a film that puts its competition to shame. It digs its claws into you and doesn't take them out. It's a definite must-watch.
2016-10-08
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