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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
Riveting and gorgeous classic film with evocative settings , wonderful cinematography and rousing soundtrack
Fascinating mystery thriller in the Dashiell Hammet-Raymond Chandler style about an eye private who becomes involved into a complex criminal intrigue centering municipal corruption, and uncovering corruption , land sell , incest and murder . 1930 , City of Los Angeles , a private detective named Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) is contracted by a woman (Diane Lane , Laura Dern's mother) claiming to be a Mrs. Mulwray to spy on her husband . As Jake investigating an adultery case stumbles on to a scheme of murder that has something to do with water . Shortly after Gittes (Jake Gittes was named after Jack Nicholson's friend, producer Harry Gittes) goes to the Town Hall where he learns about ¨The Van der Lip Dam disaster¨ is a reference to the collapse of the St Francis Dam in 1928, 40 miles northwest of Los Angeles, which had been designed by self-educated engineer William Mulholland , the consequent flooding killed at least 450 people, a loss of life that remains second only to that from the San Francisco earthquake and fire in California's history . Later on , he is hired by the real Mrs. Mulwray (Femme Fatale Faye Dunaway, after Ali MacGraw was discarded as she lost the role when she divorced him for Steve McQueen, producer Robert Evans wanted Jane Fonda for the part of Evelyn Mulwray while Roman Polanski insisted upon Julie Christie ,when Christie passed on the script , then was to Faye) who appears in his office threatening to sue if he doesn't drop the issue immediately. Gittes goes on his mission anyway, slowly uncovering a vast conspiracy centering on water management, corruption , real estate, and involving at least one killing . After that , there appears a hood (Polanski who knifes Nicholson) who slits Jake's nose (it was extremely complex to shot by using a specially-constructed knife with a short hinge that they began to claim Nicholson's nose was actually cut).

It is a splendid film in noir tradition and considered to be one of the best film about this genre . This exciting movie packs mystery, tension, nail-biting scenes, strikingly suspense and colorful images . Interesting and thrilling script by Robert Towne who wrote the screenplay with Jack Nicholson in mind and deservedly won Oscar for the best original screenplay . The Chinatown screenplay is now regarded as being one of the most perfect screenplays and is now a main teaching point in screen writing seminars and classes everywhere. This was the first film of a planned trilogy about corruption in the development of Los Angeles. It was set in the 1930s and was about the water department and in the original script, no scenes took place in Chinatown at all. . The second film, The Two Jakes, was directed by Jack Nicholson in 1990 and was set in the 1940s and was about the gas company. The third film of the trilogy was about the building of the massive freeway system and was to be called "Cloverleaf", named after the famous interchange in downtown L.A., but it was never filmed. Awesome acting by Jack Nicholson ,because this film was the first of a planned trilogy, Jack Nicholson turned down all detective roles he was offered so that the only detective he played would be Jake Gittes. At the time of filming, Jack Nicholson had just embarked on his longstanding relationship with Anjelica Huston , this made his scenes with her father, John Huston, rather uncomfortable. Secondary cast is frankly magnificent such as Burt Young , John Huston , Diane Lane , Perry Lopez , James Hong , Bruce Glover , among others . Roman Polanski wanted William A. Fraker as his cinematographer, having successfully collaborated with him on Rosemary's Baby, but this notion was blocked by producer Robert Evans .Cinematographer Stanley Cortez was fired soon after production began because his classical style did not match the naturalistic style Polanski wanted for the film and proved too time consuming , Polanski had to find a replacement in only a few days and chose John A. Alonzo. Emotive as well as sensitive musical score by Jerry Goldsmith , including unforgettable leitmotif ; though Phillip Lambro was originally hired to write the film's music score but it was rejected at the last minute by producer Robert Evans, leaving Jerry Goldsmith only ten days to write and record the new score. The motion picture was stunningly directed by Polanski (Repulsion , Rosemary's baby , The pianist , Bitter moon, Frantic, Dance of vampires) . This is the last movie Roman Polanski filmed in the US and resulted to be the 15th biggest grossing film of 1974. And 2007, the American Film Institute ranked this as the #21 Greatest Movie of All Time. And ranked #2 on the American Film Institute's list of the 10 greatest films in the genre "Mystery" in June 2008 .
2012-09-18
The ending killed it for me
Before any of you movie buffs assault me in your minds for wanting a happy ending, I want to say I don't. I want AN ending. Any ending. The ending is the most important part of a film. It sticks with you in ways the rest of the film doesn't.

Chinatown's ending sticks with me, but it does so for the wrong reason. I have the same problem with 'The French Connection.' It WASN'T an ending! It just went along, then stopped. Like the editor sneezed while splicing film.

Nicholson's character persists in the investigation even when he doesn't need to. I'm sorry, but there's no chance he wouldn't have persisted after the events in the last scenes. The movie failed to end. It just stopped two or three scenes before the actual end. It annoyed me to the point of growling.

Is the movie brilliant? Yes. Is the movie a classic? Yes. Is the movie annoying? Hell yes! I don't care if everyone ends up dead and LA burns to the ground and the last shot is of crying babies burning on spikes, it's at least a real ending with no loose ends.

Loose ends in a bad movie are derided, loose ends in this movie and it's called a masterpiece? No. It doesn't work that way. I adored every frame until the last scene, when the loose ends burned like fiery wicks into my soul.

I want to give the movie a much lower score... but... I... can't. The rest of the movie is just too damned good. But the ending killed it for me. I could never watch it again.
2006-04-13
A Haunting Atmosphere
This film reminds me of "The Big Sleep" with Bogie and Bacall, although "Chinatown" is more enjoyable than the 1946 so-called "classic". Both Jake Gittes and Philip Marlowe exude smugness and insolence; both have to contend with, and are inexorably drawn to, classy women with secrets. And typical of movies that feature gumshoe detectives, the stories of both "The Big Sleep" and "Chinatown" are confusing and convoluted.

"Chinatown" combines power and corruption with sex and murder into a needlessly complex plot, written perhaps deliberately to confound viewers, in keeping with traditional noir doctrine, which espouses that confusion equals arty sophistication.

So who did kill Ida Sessions, and how did she get possession of those pictures? Fans of "Chinatown" would regard such questions as irrelevant, just as fans of "The Big Sleep" would regard the question of who killed Owen Taylor irrelevant. Who cares who the killer was, so long as you have the infallible Nicholson, as heir to the infallible Bogart, to distract attention from the story. Sorry, but I just don't agree that a muddled story can be a film's virtue.

"Chinatown" does have its strengths. Good acting permeates the film, even among minor characters. But the performance of John Huston was inspired (pardon the irony), and should have been recognized as such with an academy award. The music, too, is impressive. The slow, lonely horn evokes a dark and brooding mood totally in sync with the classy cinematography.

This film has a haunting cinematic atmosphere and, to some extent, that helps overcome a perplexing plot.
2003-07-01
Polanski's brilliance strikes again
Roman Polanski's Chinatown is definitely one of the best crime thrillers when it comes to both its fantastic structure and complex character study. It's his fascinating take on the corruption, greed and violence that lead people to become inhumane and brutal towards one another. It's like this real, and metaphorical 'Chinatown' in every bigger town in the USA – a place where everything happens on its own rules. Or even better, there aren't actually any rules, just the law of the jungle, one might say. Of course the rule applies as much to a single district, as to a whole city, or even country.

J. J. Gittes has to cope with one of the hardest cases that he had ever encountered. Normally, it all comes down to a few pictures of a cheating spouse (that's his business all right) to end a chapter. But this time it's something much bigger and more dangerous. He embarks on a path, which heads toward the discovery of a scheme that concerns the whole city of Los Angeles and its huge water supply. What's more, in all this crazy, dizzying mess Gittes meets a very fascinating and troubled woman, with a difficult mystery attached to herself.

After spending time with her Gittes is able to realize how pathological her family really is. And pathology is a right word in this context, as the amount of incest and other closely related themes is enormous.

The uncontested brilliance that Polanski has shown in Chinatown is contained in its complicated storyline and great use of symbolism, connected to every thing water-y. Almost everywhere you can sense the impact put on various connotations regarding water, not only in dialogues but also in the aspect of sensual experiences. For example, tapping water in the sink plays great with the overwhelming silence in the scene, where J. J. discovers a dead body on the floor.

I really admire Jack Nicholson for his marvelous work in every picture that he stars in, but his role in Chinatown is for me the definition of his career. The way he plays Gittes just makes you want more of his on-screen time (even though he is the main character). He sometimes shows a very serious side of his nature, but he can also come up with a fine amount of great jokes and insults. He is sacrificing his own life to terminate a case, which he wasn't even supposed to be involved in. Nicholson shows a bunch of acting skills that make his act very believable and entertaining. Faye Dunaway gives a decent performance as this classy, but very disturbed woman trying to help herself cope with the peculiar problems of her strange family. Note: Don't miss the very funny cameo by Polanski, who plays this scary, tiny man with a knife. Many laughs assured!

Polanski also makes a great use of the plot device known as a MacGuffin. The murder, which occurs in the beginning of the film isn't actually the thing that drives the plot later on. Even though Gittes is trying to find the killer, the picture is more about an insight into the characters and their profiles to provide a definitive explanation of this gruesome story.

All in all, I highly recommend Chinatown as one the best avant-garde crime movies ever directed and one of the finest, freshest takes on the pristine noir genre. Great directing, thrilling storyline and many detailed puzzles hidden in it account for a most memorable experience.
2012-05-25
A private detective who moved from Chinatown because of superstitions to L.A. gets caught up in twisted family, and what at the start was a small investigation turns out to be a big investigation, with setup
I give this movie a 10 because it thrilled me like hell, there's great writing in the script, great camera shots, outstanding acting, and kept you thinking through out the movie, what will happen next, or maybe this will happen.
2003-01-21
Romans Noir Is High Class
This is yet another example of 1970s movie making in America. Another great movie from the greatest movie making decade..in U.S.A. history. Roman Polanski directs brilliantly, and Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway and John Huston are simply superb in there roles. This was the era when special effects was lighting a cigarette. So tragic that now we have sunk to middle--earth, and we actually watch C.G.I. garbage. (I don't ). This is one of those films where everything fits. The music by Jerry Goldsmith is lush and with great depth. What is it that separates "great directors" from the others? I think it is a single minded-ness. They can see the finished product in there minds...and simply work towards it. That was the view of Hitchcock, and i am sure he is talking for most great directors. Anyway, here is a high class film noir to enjoy.
2013-01-21
"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
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
One of the best for both Polanski and Nicholson.
"Chinatown" is an absolutely intoxicating mystery set in 30s Los Angeles where private detective Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) is hired to keep an eye on a water and power executive and finds much more going on than he'd anticipated. Faye Dunaway is his femme fatale, aloof socialite Evelyn Mulwray, in screenwriter Robert Townes' delicious ode to the crime fiction of authors like Hammett and Chandler. Many details add to the enjoyment of this intricately plotted story; what's so great about it is that we discover things along with Jake and aren't able to figure out where it's going next. The story also has a very grim quality to it, one that's actually cyclical in nature as it's suggested that events and actions in the story are a repeat of past occurrences that had previously resulted in tragedy. Then again, people may not expect just how grim this gets in the end. Additionally, it features some revelations that are particularly twisted and which the viewer is not likely to forget. There's one character who will especially make ones' skin crawl. Many riveting scenes and confrontations play out while everything gets lovingly and beautifully lit and photographed; period recreation is also strong. Director Roman Polanski guides all of it with a sure hand, getting superb performances out of his well chosen cast. A large amount of familiar faces appear - Perry Lopez, Dick Bakalyan, Joe Mantell, Bruce Glover, Diane Ladd, John Hillerman, James Hong, Beulah Quo, Roy Roberts, Noble Willingham, Rance Howard, Jesse Vint, Burt Young, and Lee de Broux, but standing out and delivering a very grandiose performance is the always welcome John Huston. Polanskis' cameo as the hood who slashes Jakes' nose is also a treat. By the end, the separate threads are tied together and Jake realizes that all of his best efforts don't amount to that much; he's unable to prevent the worst from happening. Still, this film offers a compulsively watchable journey on the way to its destination, remaining believable and interesting all the way. Even as it gets very serious, it doesn't miss opportunities for humour, and it entertains solidly for two hours and 11 minutes, rating as one of the most potent examples of the "neo noir" genre. 10 out of 10.
2012-11-02
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