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Crime, Drama, Thriller, Mystery
IMDB rating:
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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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.
Sad Story Of Corruption
Roman Polanski directed this complex but fascinating story of corruption that stars Jack Nicholson as private detective J.J. Gittes, who is hired by a woman named Evelyn Mulwray to see if her husband(a water department official) is cheating. It turns out he is, but things take a strange turn when the husband is found dead, and the woman who hired him was an impostor. The real Evelyn Mulwray(played by Faye Dunaway) claims to know nothing of the affair, but Gittes continues to investigate, which leads him to wealthy land owner Noah Cross(played by John Houston) who has shady dealings going on, and also wants to find his granddaughter, which Evelyn knows something about... Superbly directed and acted film is quite uncomfortably cynical and downbeat at times, especially the ending, but remains a fine(updated) throwback to classic film noir.
The power of chinatown communication
"Chinatown" is not the most beloved, best-known, or most remembered of the films, but ironically, it is one of the most important films of the 70's, "chinatown" is not a kind film, and it's not even the best movie of Polanski, but his narrative capacity is absurd, even to this day there is a maxim in entertainment that is not true, that all the stories have already been told, it is up to the interlocutor to tell them in different ways, and that is precisely what this movie does, inspired by the great noir films of the 1940s, it is not a novelty, and at the same time it is unlike anything we have seen, such as "the unforgivable" of '92 is the last great act of the western genre in cinema - even out of season, "chinatown" does the same thing with the noair genre. The great point that draws attention to "chinatown" is his script, he is completely magnificent, I would say, which is a complete synthesis of the perfection of how to script a movie, in 2 hours we have complete development of all the characters, we have a simple plot which gains layers of depth every minute, we have problems that mix with the city, turning into a political and social plot while bringing a classic story of a detective full of twists, who at one point surrenders to the cliché, but then surprises the all showing that in "chinatown" there are no spaces for the obvious. The film touches on such as love, police, ethics, society, organized crime, rape, nothing in a very deep way but also nothing is shallow, it gives the introduction to the theme, and the viewer who links the dots, alias, "chinatown" is a film that has to be seen and reviewed to be able to connect the points in a more satisfactory way, and to have a broad and complete notion of its history, which is not easy to understand in the first one visited during the film. With a great photo, extremely clear and brings new york life together with an assembly that joins the script to bring a great rhythm to the film, and a soundtrack that combines but is not marked in technical parts, the film has no much to criticize, is not perfect, but is not far behind the artistic part of the film, part that brings jack nicholson who is incredibly in a centered role, and alias, doing a great performance, and the stunning Faye Dunaway, who we love and hate her throughout the film, and she makes the whole story run around her, and she succeeds in behaving like the guiding thread of the script, interpreting many facets. Polanski and his artistic team did a fine job here, their film is not perfect, it's true, but it's a pity that it's not such a remembered movie, because the same is wonderful.
"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."
Roman Polanski's Caustic Neo-Noir is So Compelling that "You Can't Forget It"!
It's Los Angeles, 1937. Jack Nicholson's private detective Jake J. Gittes is not a primal masculine archetype, but rather a complicated protagonist. Far from cool and collected, he is simply self- possessed, with a sense of control that's highly illusory and much of the film pivots on undercutting his misplaced self-confidence. The film immediately establishes his less-than-ideal persona via his work snapping pictures of adulterous spouses, a lowbrow form of detective work that is typically beneath the more admirable private eyes. He's looked down on by the law and treated as something of a sordid but necessary evil by his clients, but Jake realizes that's just how the game is played. Soon enough, though, one of those clients, a mysterious woman named Mrs. Evelyn Mulwray finds a way to use Jake's scurrilous reputation to set him up for a fall. His ensuing attempts to clear his name put him on the trail of a case that's bigger, more complex and wide-ranging than anything he's used to, coming up with more rot than he bargained for. One that goes, as they say, all the way to the top!

A convoluted mystery that begins with a visit from a femme-fatale, an ironclad cynical detective with a code of honor, and a spider- like villain weaving a web at the center of the story are all familiar elements of a hard-boiled detective film. But trust Roman Polanski to make disillusionment seductive and resurrect the almost dead format! What he does so brilliantly in Chinatown is import the soul-sick paranoia of 1930s Los Angeles into its depiction: the eponymous Chinatown is less of a physical presence than a state of mind - it's a lurid fantasy, an idea that hovers constantly around the fringes of the movie making it an ultimately intangible maelstrom of deceit, regret and confusion in which the only thing you can be sure of is that everything you know is - to one degree or another - wrong. Robert Towne's labyrinthine script keeps the proceedings thrilling, humorous and disturbing at the same time, pepped up greatly by the crackling dialogues.

The film also boasts career best turns from its star-cast led by Jack Nicholson, who is absolutely charismatic as Jake Gittes, as we find ourselves solve the mystery alongside him as he follows lead after lead through a labyrinth of sticky situations. His Gittes is a layered character and Nicholson makes his depth visible to the audience. Faye Dunaway's vulnerability constantly tempts us with the notion that she is the victim, rather than the villain, in a performance that still has the power to shock. Outright villainy is instead embodied by Noah Cross, an incredibly vile portrayal by John Huston. He gives Noah a false air of courtly manners that, if anything, only adds to the character's sense of debauchery.

Notoriously bleak, yet utterly compelling, Chinatown remains a magnificent dissection of corruption right up to its enigmatic finale. The brute force of its ugly truth is the heart of the film's artistry, and it sticks with us. And it might be just a state of mind, but Chinatown still retains the power to bruise and scar to this day.
Past and Future Tense
***User reviewer Sergio_Falco ("What to say?", Sergio_Falco from Australia, May 2012) has an interesting commentary that mentions the layers of evil. Mr Ghostface ("A wonderful, classic film", Mr Ghostface from London, England, 8 October 1999) has good background info.***

Chinatown (1974, Roman Polanski), a homage to Film noir, is one of the world's great film treasures. Many reviewers describe it as one of the elite film noirs. (I would disqualify it for not belonging to the genre well enough.) "Chinatown" is often used as curriculum in film schools. This is high art, and is particularly great fun to view it on the big screen when the opportunity exists.

Robert Towne is credited with the original screenplay. Although it was inspired by the water wars that occurred in LA in the early twentieth century, it is set decades later (1937). The director, Roman Polanski, changed Towne's desired ending. The plot meanders and has holes, but there isn't a dull scene. The entire cast functions very well. Polanski makes a director's cameo that rivals any other. The supporting characters fit in effortlessly. (My favorite is John Hillerman as Yelburton.)

The principal three characters are all at a high level. I am fond of Faye Dunaway as Evelyn Mulray; same with John Houston as Noah Cross. However, Jack Nicholson is masterful as J. J. Gittes. Towne wrote the screenplay for Nicholson, and Gittes appears in every scene. Nicholson's Gittes is a smart, acerbic, dogged private investigator who breaks rules without hesitation while making his share of blunders. He is also a magnet (i.e., almost always the center of attention).

The acid-tongued Gittes is haunted by an event that is never revealed to the audience. It occurred when he was a beat cop in Chinatown. While Gittes is irked with civil servants generally (e.g., the man at the Hall of Records), he has obvious contempt for his former police colleagues. There seems to be a connection between the intensity of Gittes's loathing of each cop with that character's contribution to the conclusion. So, there's no need for us to know what happened in Chinatown previously because it is the same destination as the future.

Personally, I can't respect Towne's decision to have Gittes slapping Evelyn around before she reveals her secret. I don't think it is very challenging for a filmmaker to show a stronger man beating up a woman. On an unrelated note, it is also kind of hilarious to imagine people nonchalantly smoking everywhere in 1937, including government offices.

(BTW, "Chinatown" repeats the phrase, "as little as possible." This is in response to the question, "what did you do there?" This line can be explained by making what today is likely construed as a racist statement: A white policeman working Chinatown will find the locals so inscrutable it is impossible to know whether law enforcement is causing or preventing a crime. So, the beat cops do the least amount of policing that is required of them.)

Above all else, "Chinatown" is dazzling because of Polanski's vision. He uses the entire frame, and is conveying point of view. (My favorite image is probably the final one of Yelburton; Gittes suggests he is due for a great future and it appears the reverse is in store.) Polanski is expert level at varying the size and position of Gittes, while employing a very precise focal length. (It is worth noticing when the background is blurry.)

Polanski also employs a visual leitmotif. He frequently shoots Gittes from the back while Gittes is spying on someone else. The frequency of watching Gittes from behind, with Gittes seemingly making no effort to be discrete, makes the audience feel like a voyeur. Considering the film's pivotal surprise, the voyeur feeling takes us closer to experiencing the sordid details.

"Chinatown" is too good to miss. Cinephiles are encouraged to head over to the nearest revival theater to see it again, steering clear of whatever diminutive, maniacal, switchblade-bearing directors that are encountered.
Another World
Spoilers herein.

Polanski is worth watching no matter what he does. Sometimes, the film is relatively free of context, like the nearly perfect `Ninth Gate.' But watching those take work because you have to cocreate the world.

Sometimes the film is set in the context of a genre where the metanarrative is about how it sets within the genre. `Rosemary's Baby' was great because it played with everything that came before, adding great portions of architectural evil and fey vulnerability.

Noir revolutionized film. The detective was our representative in the story, unravelling the order of the world. Noir turned that on its head, directly referencing what came before. The noir detective was still our avatar but was swept up in the world he was trying to understand. Everything happens TO him, not around him.

Now Polanski does a Welles and Nicholson does a Brando. Both are techniques of self-commentary at the same time as commenting on the genre. Both are both IN the films and OF film, but until `Chinatown' they had never been attempted at the same time. This film changed the world. Huston was along for the ride.

Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 4: Worth watching.
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.
Mesmerizing and mysterious and so authentically made.
Mesmerizing and mysterious and so authentically made.

Its hard not to delve into the script right from the first frame, as the reels goes on, characters become more mysterious, more secrets are revealed and more questions raised, is it about water and the power to hold water or something much beyond that, if that's one question, then why is Jake so interested in things like Evelyn Cross.

Jake Gittes is played by Jack Nicholson and he is done an exceptional job and so did so many others, in fact all of them must be applauded for acting. Now for such supreme acting to be extracted, the director takes a toll and here we have Roman Polanski at the helm and its his take on the script thats makes it more dark and interesting.

Robert Towne has produced a screenplay thats is superbly written, fast paced for its 140 minutes length and becomes more interesting till the last frame, dialogues are written so well, that they are mystique when we hear and are so self explanatory when it happens in the film. The best dialogue that astonished me is "She is my sister and my daughter" does anyone expect this all through the film, I very much doubt. The pace holds it up well and is written with enough moments of dark humor, its not sarcastic or finding flaws in system, but finding flaws in person who are a BIG part of the system and are the main drivers of it. So it's psychological more than incident based. I believe, Robert Towne wrote it as incident based screenplay but Roman Polanski who has made even THE PIANIST as an extremely psychological film is who raises above the script and makes it a masterpiece.

I will go with 5/5 and a best writing for Robert Towne, best acting for Jack Nicholson and best direction for Roman Polanski are my awards. Just watch it please.

Also, I got to know of this film through the equally well adapted Hindi film, "Manorama Six Feet Under" which is well worth a watch will review that later.
Proves it's not just a noir poser; superb thriller
For my money, Jerry Goldsmith's "Main Theme" for CHINATOWN is one of the all-time great pieces of film music. Both seductive and melancholy, it instantly evokes the period setting of the film and the ridiculously bleak nature of the story.

And it is one hell of a story; a grade-A film noir with a unique Water & Power angle that serves as a red herring to the real narrative substance. It's well-written and proves John A. Alonzo was one of the great cinematographers (there's some brilliant shot composition here). But it really comes down to the core cast. Nicholson fits into the PI mold well, both educated and crude around women, while John Huston, playing a monumental scumbag, brings the affable charm to really highlight the menace. Faye Dunaway ably pulls off the femme fatale component, until we realize that she's the film's heroine . . . unbelievably tragic though that is.

It's the kind of movie that gets under your skin and stays there. Both the ending and final line are a testament to '70s filmmaking, with the balls to forego a happy epilogue for all involved. You couldn't make this movie today, and it sits on the top-shelf with the finest movies of its decade.

It just gets better with every watch.

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