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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
This movie got it all: perfectly paced study of human darkness
I knew CHINATOWN was hailed as the paragon of a film noir, and that's why I finally got down to watching it. However, despite having known about the movie for quite a while, I wasn't really prepared for just how dark it could be. The movie starts slowly, with a private detective taking on what looks like a routine case. But soon he finds himself enmeshed in a web of conspiracy, murder, lies and deceit. The plot is like a perfect machine that relentlessly moves towards a final resolution that is truly epic and truly soul-wrenching.

In a recent New York Times piece, they called CHINATOWN "a meditation on evil", which is spot-on. Set in 1937, this movie is just all-round perfect, first and foremost how everything is connected within the grand structure of the movie, that is rich in themes (water, evil, trust, guilt, greed) and even richer in suspense, as the audience—just like our protagonist—tries to find out what is happening. The story is "complex" for sure, but it's not "complicated". Everything makes sense in the end and the complexity pays off big time.

Besides the impeccable screenplay, everything else about this movie is perfect as well. Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway carry the movie with sophistication and dignity. Dunaway's stunning performance in particular fills every scene with an aura of mystery as you are trying to find out what her motives are. The set pieces are beautiful, the score is compelling; and camera-work and editing could not be any better. There is a reason this one is called a classic! So, if you're ready to delve deep into a richly layered exploration of the dark side of humanity—enjoy the ride. But don't expect to come back unscathed.
2017-08-26
a classic that improves with every viewing
Roman Polanski's wide screen, Depression era detective story is more than just another anachronistic homage to the film noir gumshoes and femme fatales of yesteryear. The serpentine labyrinth of corruption uncovered by tough but intelligent private eye Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) involves nothing less than the consolidation of greater Los Angeles itself, where the most tainted currency of thieves isn't money, but water. This is one of those rare productions where every element seems to fall into place, from Robert Towne's exciting, original screenplay to a definitive performance by Nicholson to John Huston's unlikely but effective portrayal of what must be one of the most depraved villains in screen memory, a man who, by his own chilling admission, "is capable of anything." Music, art direction, editing and photography are all first class, but the true test of any classic is longevity, and in this regard the film passes with flying colors by actually improving with each viewing.
2010-11-10
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
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
Forget It Jake; It's Chinatown.
Bolstered by strong performances from its leading cast, brilliant script by Robert Towne and taut direction by Roman Polanski, Chinatown is one of the best offerings of the mystery genre. Jack Nicholson stars as private detective, J J Gittes and gives a really composed performance and is literally present in every single scene in this film. Faye Dunaway as Evelyn Mulwray puts up another strong performance to go neck to neck with Nicholson's work. But the real star of this film is its script & direction as Polanski's steady work behind the camera & Towne's sturdy script are works of pure craftsmanship and carries no complains. An engaging drama promising a lot of surprises & uncertainty throughout its runtime which finally ends with a soul-shattering climax… that's Chinatown for you.
2013-09-09
First-rate detective drama
'Chinatown' is one of the best films of the 70s and without doubt one of the most memorable in the crime/detective genre. This is a first- rate picture all round with very few faults, if any. The story is complex but relatively easy to follow, which I prefer to films that are too smart for their own good. It's an intelligent mystery that captures your attention from the start and has no problem in holding it for the duration of the film.

Part of what makes 'Chinatown' so memorable is just how perfect it is in appearance. The cinematography is on another level to anything else I've seen from the 70s - each and every scene is crafted in such a stylish and elegant way. The script is also brilliant and gives us some classic lines, including of course the famous last line of the film, 'Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown'. 'Chinatown' is a film that lives up to its glowing reputation. It's difficult to fault this detective gem.
2017-08-23
Not for me, but if you're into 70s and noir, you'll really like it
Chinatown is supposedly one of the best films of all time and of the 70s. Maybe it is, but it's not for me. You really need to have a taste for 70s filmmaking and noir to appreciate this in its' fullest. I grew up in the 80s and 90s and always had a tough time praising movies of the 70s.

The movie has plenty of good qualities such as the style, acting, intricate story lines, surprises, dialogue, and mystery. It's a good film, but I couldn't see all the universal praise it gets unless it's from people who grew up in the 60s or 70s.

I fell asleep on consecutive nights while trying to get through it and finally finished it on the third try. While it is interesting and very intriguing, it didn't necessarily "grip" me the way that a mystery/crime drama/thriller would be expected to. The most gripped I was during the whole movie came on my third try to finish it when Nicholson basically domestically abuses Mrs. Mulwray and she reveals something very disturbing. Shocks like this are always riveting, but I was more disturbed than impressed with the reveal. Maybe this was gratifyingly controversial and provocative for 1974? It didn't really work for me.

While the film has classic qualities, without a doubt, by the end, for all the light it had shown at times for me, it sort of dimmed down a few points and I'll settle for a solid 7/10. It's a classic crime drama story and film that I highly recommend for that genre's list of originals, but outside of the hype, which by now appears to be bandwagon, I don't see how it's considered one of the best movies of all time. Good, but not great. 7/10
2016-05-31
The Most Perfect Movie Ever Made
Chinatown is one of the few movies I consider perfect. I've seen it several times and when I start thinking about it, dismantling the several aspects that constitute it, I don't find anything wrong about it. Perhaps only Lawrence of Arabia has such an equal perfect synthesis of acting, writing, cinematography, editing, story, pacing, music and atmosphere.

The movie starts with private investigator J. J. Gittes following a man named Mulwray, whose wife thinks is cheating on her. Gittes takes photos and they make their way into a newspaper. Gittes unknowingly became a pawn in a smear campaign. Furthermore, he discovers that Mulwray's real wife, Evelyn, wasn't the person that hired him. And then Mulwray shows up dead.

Chinatown is a movie that simultaneously draws inspiration from the source of film noir and changes this genre. It is not a coincidence that John Huston, the director considered the father of film noir (The Maltese Falcon), plays a supporting role here. Roman Polanski knows his film history and knows how to give credit where credit is due. But Huston was also a good actor so his role here is more than deserved, indeed I could not conceive this movie without his performance: he plays an odious, disgusting, unrepentant bastard with such conviction it's difficult to see where the performance ends and the person begins.

And then we have Faye Dunaway, playing one of the greatest femme fatales in history. She's a mix of untouchable angel and demonic temptress; she displays a cold reservation about the people around her, a misleading fragility that hides a dangerous mind. Although I've never liked Dunaway much, I think no one has come close to portraying hopeless despair and dread as she does in this movie.

But Chinatown also modernises the genre. Not that film noir was ever bad, but the conception of realism is something that changes with time, and what was realistic in Out of the Past or The Maltese Falcon seems unconvincing nowadays. The tough Sam Spade gives way to J.J. Gittes, a down-to-earth private eye who worries if his involvement with murder suspects and his tinkering with evidence won't make him lose his license; and who wears a bandage in his face almost the entire movie after a knife cut. This frailty, this concern with mundane details was unthinkable in noir before Jack Nicholson. The '70s have my favourite performances by Nicholson – One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest; the movie he made with Antonionni, Professione: Reporter; The Last Detail – and my absolutely favourite is his role as Gittes, an otherwise good-intentioned detective who gets involved in something that's too much for someone as insignificant as him to handle. For although he's the hero of the movie, he's that modern type of hero that achieves nothing.

Chinatown is a movie where nobility and heroism meet a dead end. Fatalism, that other gift from classic noir, is much present here. Gittes is a man trying to do good in a world that has no conception of goodness anymore, and he only makes things worse, little by little, until the unforgettable (foretold) ending where everything is tied up. Few movie endings carry such a punch as Chinatown, but it's the only ending suitable.

Roman Polanski and Robert Towne, the original screenwriter, deserve all the praise in the world for having created this masterpiece. So do the three main actors. And on a final note, Jerry Goldsmith also deserves recognition for his beautiful score, so beautiful and delicate in its melancholy, that it feels like the movie translated into musical notes. They all deserve to be forever remembered for one of cinema's masterworks.
2010-02-14
Chinatown
Roman Polanski's "Chinatown" is one of the greatest films of the 1970s for a couple of reasons:

Firstly, it stars two of New Hollywood's biggest actors, Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway, in the leading roles. Dunaway played Bonnie Parker, the infamous bank robber, in Arthur Penn's "Bonnie and Clyde", a film that hearkened back to the gangster films of the thirties. Nicholson starred in "Easy Rider" (1969) and "Five Easy Pieces" (1970), two central films in the counterculture movement of the sixties that also cemented his status as a A-list star. These two actors have perfect chemistry on screen.

Secondly, in the same way "Bonnie and Clyde" was molded after classic gangster films, "Chinatown" is modeled after film noirs of the forties and fifties. Nicholson plays Private Investigator Jack Gittes, a man whose job it is to spy on other peoples' social lives. This theme of voyeurism is consistent throughout the film, from the opening scene where one of Gittes' customers looks at photos that Gittes has taken of his wife with another man, to later shots of Gittes spying on a man from faraway through binoculars. The lens of the binoculars forms the frame. In scenes such as this, Polanski uses depth within the frame much the same as film noir utilized lighting. In many scenes throughout the film, the camera is placed far back from the characters and the action to create a feeling of suspense. This is what the old film noirs would have looked like in color.

Nicholson's character in "Chinatown" is an embodiment of the troubled male hero in countless film noirs. Something that happened in his past as a cop working in Chinatown haunts him day and night; he isn't comfortable talking about it. Chinatown itself is an enigmatic place that represents Gittes past, and it back to Chinatown where the story ultimately takes him. All of this aside, the film's story is an ingenious mystery that will have anyone holding their breath until the very last moments.
2013-04-24
Best Polanski? Yes, you bet!
Polanski's cynical noir-ish tale, CHINATOWN forces himself to retread the sad place of Los Angeles, where her pregnant wife Sharon Tate (along with several other friends) was brutally murdered in 1969. Ever so unfalteringly, he sticks to his guns, renders the whodunit mystery with an unadulterated tragic ending, as an acerbic retort to a patriarch society inundated with dyed-in- the-wool corruption both morally and economically, in memory of those innocently victimised.

J.J. Gittes (Nicholson), a copper-turned-private-eye, is swindled to investigate the hanky-panky of Hollis Mulwray (Zwerling), the chief engineer of L.A. Department of Water and Power, will soon discover something much bigger and sinister than that, after Hollis' sudden death and the involvement of Hollis' wife Evelyn (Dunaway), Gittes is intrigued to unearth the truth, which also implicates Evelyn's father Noah Cross (Huston), a magnate once was the business partner of Hollis. But, sometimes, human vice is so unspeakable and rotten-to-the-core, having almost lost his nose, Gittes would finally realise that he is still wet behind the ears in his profession, his heroic act seems astute and intrepid, but in the end of the day, it can not tip the scale, like his unspecified past in Chinatown, where he was an officer of the law, he again miserably fails to save the good and innocent from the hands of death and evil. The soul-shattering upshot is a rarely seen defiance in the mainstream cinema where a director holds sway of the final say, and its aftershock hangs around, that's why CHINATOWN is so unique and groundbreaking.

Uniformly, the film is hailed as one of the finest productions out of Hollywood, Robert Towne's Oscar-winning script delineates a conspiracy theory based on the true story which grants the story a tangible relevance, but also dives into a more personal matter of shocking taboo, to establish cinema is really a voyeuristic projector of all the dirty corners in our universe, A minor bellyaching is that, Gittes' function in the plot feels somewhat contrived, if Noah is so intent on locating what he is looking for, why on earth he would leave Evelyn out of his sight? Which is only for the benefit of storytelling that Gittes can always precede everyone else, he remains the sole source to tell audience what is the truth, that's something may or may not bother you.

There are plenty of memorable shots with distinctive flair, whether it is shot from a telescope lens, or a rearview mirror, the camera extends as a furtive, ambiguous onlooker with no further engagement, brooding and spying. Jerry Goldsmith's iconic score (made only in 10 days) lures viewers into that vintage era and then entraps them in the melancholy, suspense and thrill.

Nicholson's Gittes, who appears so competent and sharp-witted most of the time, conceals the star's smug persona and conveys a engaging commitment of the happening as the plot thickens, one of my personal favourite performance from him, simply because one literally sympathises for his vulnerability and powerlessness when he is held to face the bleak music; Dunaway, whose inscrutable mien reveals a little bit of something, each time her Evelyn comes under the spotlight, is she a femme fatale? a partner-in-crime? an insider? or just a victim? She keeps her secrecy until the big moment, the astonishing no-sham-slapping spectacles, what can one say? It just blows you away, both the revelation and the two-hander.

John Huston, perhaps in his most well-known role in front of a camera, leaves an indelible impression as a seemingly harmless wealthy old man, but actually is a metaphor of what is sickly wrong in our modern society, self-seeking, double-faced, incestuous, callous, unrepentant, with an unhealthy attachment of his own bloodline, a high-profile addition along with the two excellent leads.

In all frankness, normally, the blunt exploitation of woman as an easy prey is a big turn-down for my taste, but in this case, Polanski's free pass is too big to fail and the film survives as his most renowned work ever since.
2016-06-26
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