Chinatown, the 1974 Roman Polanski feature that resembles one of
the golden era’s best. It hosts a fine set of performances from Jack Nicholson as J.J. “Jake” Gittes, the private eye working for Evelyn Cross Mulwray who is played by Faye Dunaway. The film remains a landmark in American cinema; it is often cited as the best crime-noir ever made, and its paradoxical screenplay is too often cited as the best of its kind.
In brief, the film follows A private detective investigating an adultery case, but then stumbles on to a scheme of murder that has something to do with water.
Chinatown is perhaps the calmest of Jack Nicholson’s on-screen roles. He plays the ex-police officer turned private detective Jake Gittes. We see the film through his eyes, which was completely necessary in order for this film to work; because of the number of twists in the plot, it is good to learn new things as Jake does. I’d liken his character to James Stewart’s as L. B. “Jeff” Jeffries in Rear Window – which is good because Rear Window is definitely in contention for the greatest film ever made. The mixture of partially-overlooked messages and tenacious plot twists is picture perfect; you need to pay a lot of attention in order to understand what is going on, and in your focal of attention, you begin to pick up all of the small messages Polanski added when making this film.
The screenplay, written by Robert Towne, was bar none the best ever made; original screenplay, anyway. The way hemade the dialogue fit perfectly to each character was amazing, especially considering the fact that some of the characters’ backgrounds were very dangerous. The screenplay itself is very clear, especially in delivering important points. We note this importance with things like music; Chinatown’s music score is also cited as one of the greats. He and Polanski created a near-perfect ending; there are many references to Chinatown in the film – none of which good – and at the end we see them in Chinatown – and what would you know, something bad happens.
Of course we have Faye Dunaway, perhaps my favourite actress of all time. She gave the film what it needed to have mainstream success. But she was more than that; she had class, she had eloquence. Her and Nicholson’s connection was so powerful that it made you sad – because you knew things wouldn’t end well. All of the smaller-parts in the film had stellar acting, too; John Huston’s portrayal of Noah Cross was a quite chilling one, mainly because of his presumed innocence earlier on in the film. Then we have Jake’s assistants, one of which (Joe Mantell) was the person who gave the infamous line “Forget it, Jake, it’s Chinatown.”
My one and only criticism of the film is its settings; it didn’t look like the 1930s. Though, this criticism is a very, very minute one – and it did not affect the viewing experience at all.
I think what’s best about Chinatown is the way it authenticates itself from any other film ever made; it explored a number of new things – like cross genre-ing and incest. The broadness of it was fascinating; never before had I seen a film so well thought out, so well-acted or so emotional coherent. The acting is backed up by a mesmerising score, solid technical work – and the hand of a truly great director. The neo-noir genre is one I’m not very familiar with, but Polanski made it easy enough to understand that I could fully appreciate its greatness.
It’s powerful, it’s riveting, it’s everything you’d expect it to be and more. Chinatown is more than a film; it’s a statement. It makes you question the very likeliness of human connection in such a way that it makes you feel guilty…a modern-day classic by all means.