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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
Dark, gripping, and enthralling
It's very odd, but I get the impression that Roman Polanski's "Chinatown" (1974) is one of the best private-eye dramas ever made, and I've only seen a few in my life. That's the kind of imprint this film leaves.

Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway are perfect in their roles as a cynical private detective and a mysterious and beautiful femme fatale, respectively (of course). I thought the lighting was suiting, the camera-work was appropriate, but not over the top. The score wasn't unusual, so it wasn't all that important, but who cares? It's a dramatic film, and a predictable dramatic score is fitting. The actual music involved is jazzy and well-placed. The plot is gripping and riveting; so seeing this film is definitely an interesting way to spend an evening.

Overall, an enthralling film that couldn't possible bore anyone, and a fun dramatic movie to watch if you like that sort of plot. Even if you're iffy about the very dark quality of it, give it a chance. It's an experience you shouldn't miss either way.
2014-05-09
He nose you know!
Chinatown is directed by Roman Polanski and written by Robert Towne. It stars Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Huston, Perry Lopez and John Hillerman. Music is by Jerry Goldsmith and cinematography by John A. Alonzo.

Private investigator J.J. Gittes (Nicholson) is working on an adultery case but quickly finds himself embroiled in murder and corruption.

The gathering of Polanski, Towne, Nicholson and Robert Evans (producer) put their respective skills together to craft one of the most lauded neo-noir films of all time. It's a searing picture awash with the staples of the film noir and gumshoe detective movies that graced cinema in the 40s and 50s. From the characterisations (suspicious femmes - mouthy coppers - sleazy kingpin - tough protagonist in a whirlpool of unravelling layers), to the hard boiled script, violence, sex and brutal revelations, it's a noir essential that only lacks chiaroscuro and expressionistic swirls to seal the complete deal.

Allegoraries unbound, iconography assured and dialogue now in the lexicon of legends, Chinatown is not to be missed, not just by fans of noir, but fans of cinema, period. 9.5/10
2015-09-24
Wonderful Movie
I can hardly believe that this movie is 35 years old. It is so fresh and appealing; it might have been filmed yesterday.

Polanski has given a Technicolour take on the noir genre and come up trumps. There are no technical aspects with which I can take issue.

Jack Nicholson turns in a splendid performance for a Hammeresque gumshoe of the period, easily as good as Bogey or Mitchum - Sardonic, cynical, unafraid but still very human. I'm surprised he didn't do more. Whilst Faye Dunawaye makes an equally plausible take on the 'broad who is damaged goods'.

It's the usually convoluted tale of a private dick retained to investigate a missing person and then finding himself in a whole mess of hot (read cold) water. An especial challenge for Nicholson is that less than halfway through the movie, a switch-blade thug (played by Polanski himself) opens his nostril. For most of the rest of the time he is forced to play his part with this clownish, carbuncular dressing on his nose. That he still continues to offer an entirely believable performance is a measure of the great man's talent. A lot of actors would simply have refused a role that so obviously disfigured their pretty faces.

All of the other ensemble turn in sterling performances, too.

The vintage period is captured extremely well. There are some wonderful choices in motorcars.

Script is slick, witty and hard-edged, just like a good noir should be. It certainly pays to listen.

And finally, no movie is complete and many are spoiled by an inappropriate or unmemorable music score. Here again, 'Chinatown' hits just the right spot with a slow jazz number, headed by a maudlin trumpet lead. You won't forget it.

Thoroughly gripping entertainment in every aspect, no technical issues to criticise; what can I do but give it 10 stars?
2009-09-12
A marvellous film with lots of marvellous things
Rating-9/10

Chinatown is a classic movie that is still talked of today as one of the very best. To be fair there is no doubting that this is superbly acted and the same goes for the writing and directing which all together makes this a fine film in cinema history. It also stays a mystery and never gives up the ending easily and leaves you not only guessing but also thinking about all the intricate details going on.

Now Chinatown doesn't have the most exciting story, or maybe the premise doesn't seem exciting but the movie itself is good when it comes to the depth involved. The story is so well researched and so well put together, you don't need big thrills and gunshots everywhere to be made to enjoy this piece. I think one big thing about the plot is it's level of detail as mentioned as it is just overly detailed and really makes the plot thicker if anything.

Jack Nicholson portrays J.J. Gittes with a certain ease In his demeanour and a kind of worked out character that seems planned and as if Nicholson put a lot of work in before taking the role. Cast such as Faye Dunaway do a top job too here and she seems calm and yet her character is very complex and hard to figure out what's going on with her, the certain chemistry if you will between Nicholson and Dunaway could be analysed over and over and you can really see Gittes does not understand her fully.

Robert Towne the writer creates a script that is considered among the very best in cinema, and I mean worldwide. It is calm and calculated and Towne makes a screenplay something more than well, a screenplay, he creates drama and intrigue in all the right places. The script is slow but somehow Towne makes it exciting in a way and lets you watch with an air of what's next around the corner, just a top job from a top writer.

The neo-noir style is in abundance, but it is safe in it's pickings of where to put it, it isn't overused in any case and when the biggest examples of neo-noir are seen, they work very well. I felt the score that is in line with the neo-noir style is a fine one and the late Jerry Goldsmith does a magnificent job in making quite bland and ordinary scenes seem yet again, exciting and also gives a lovely air of mystery even in the music.

You know many films we see the cinematography over looked and not really thought of as one of the highlights, but here it very much is the case and a big one. John Alonzo was nominated for an Oscar for his work but the fact that when people mention this they only go for the directing, writing and acting is an insult to the beautiful craft Alonzo creates. The shots are just so well timed and the close ups and very few cuts make this ahead of it's time in camera work for movies.

Overall I felt it to be firmly a brilliant movie and one that should stay with the viewer no matter what they felt about it. I do feel this is overrated and without shooting me here me out, I can see why people love this and it definitely isn't a mystery why, it is just I didn't find this exciting enough to be flawless, but is still a wonderful and glorious movie that even with just what I say, is still near the very top.
2015-04-25
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
Director Roman Polanski blows the whistle on America . . .
. . . in his masterwork movie, CHINATOWN. All of our brave soldiers have died so that government of the rich people, by the rich people, and for the rich people shall not perish, Polanski proves here. As the film's richest character, Noah Cross says, rich people can even surprise themselves when they notice how evil they have become. After knocking up his own daughter in her mid-teens, he's hell-bent in having the local police aid and abet him in his craving to gain carnal knowledge of his daughter\granddaughter, Katherine. When his business partner, Hollis, objects, Noah drowns Hollis in Hollis' own fish pond. Noah has the police cover this up for him, of course.

Noah, as you might have noticed, can do ANYTHING he wants, with the full support of the local police. This is because he is the richest Angelino, and he's about to become at least twice as rich, thanks to his scheme to triple the land area of Los Angeles through his manipulation of the water supply. Though everything that Noah does is unconstitutional, the U.S. Constitution and the Holy Bible get far less of his respect than toilet paper. Polanski also aims to prove that American police are the dumbest segment of the world population. Most of the cops in CHINATOWN are eager to commit any outrage imaginable for fewer pay crumbs off the rich man's table than even the butler is paid. These crime enablers derive their main payment vicariously, because they are bullies at heart and would work as henchmen for Noah and his ilk at no pay at all. They glory in making everyone else grovel at Noah's feet, forced to worship his accumulated mountain of gold.

The self-anointed "good cops" in CHINATOWN's world are the most stupid of all. Private Eye Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson)'s "back story" is that he tried to be a "good cop" in L.A.'s Chinatown, but got his lover killed. He thinks he can quit the LAPD and outwit the rich. Instead, he gets a new lover killed in Chinatown, and condemns another 15-year-old girl to the hell of incest at the hands of her billionaire grandfather. This TRUE STORY of the origins of Los Angeles, and the moral character of her founding father, raised a few hackles. Noah Cross' heirs ordered President Nixon to have Polanski's family butchered by C.I.A. operatives. They also trumped up bogus charges directly taken from CHINATOWN's Oscar-winning script to prevent Polanski from ever setting foot in America again, effectively silencing this lone voice crying out a warning from our wasteland. Everything is this review is TRUE--you can see most of it documented just by watching CHINATOWN. (If it were NOT true, there would not have been such a conflagration launched against the Polanski family!) Anyone who is brave and has a good heart will understand. As for the rest of you, Nicholson sums it up the best: "YOU JUST CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH!!"
2013-11-26
A Date With Tragedy
SPOILERS AHEAD:

No other modern movie has captured the atmosphere of the film-noir as Chinatown has; it has everything you'd find in any classic of the genre like The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, or Double Indemnity: the flawed hero, the femme fatale, a tragic story, man's darker side exposed, and lots of psychological depth. Yet, Polanski and Towne dress it up with a modern feel and cynicism.

The tragedy in this movie comes from the protagonist - Jake Gittes - a PI who unfortunately doesn't know when to take his own advice about not getting involved in other people's matters. When what initially begins with a normal adultery investigation turns into murder, Gittes' commitment to finding out the dead man's complex secrets put him on a journey with no return where he'll destroy himself and the woman he loves... Evelyn, perhaps American cinema's most fascinating and complex victim in a crime situation. It's also notable John Huston's short role as Evelyn's father, one of the most incredible and disturbing villains ever created... not disturbing in the sense of a Frank Booth (Blue Velvet) or a John Doe (Se7en)... Noah Cross's evil is far more personal and. I'd assume to American watchers, more disturbing than any physical violence.

Technically speaking, Chinatown is also impressive: the editing is tight, and working along with a fine minimalist screenplay, it manages to keep the bare essential to tell the story properly - every minute, scene and line work on moving the story towards closure and developing the characters... no superfluous scenes, just a brilliant screenplay with lots of focus and coherence.

And Goldsmith's beautiful score adds the last touch - it's tragic, haunting and very sad; it evokes the '30's, like the movie itself does in every building, car, hairstyle or costume... Chinatown brilliantly revives an era that has existed mostly in people's minds than anything else.

With fascinating, complex and flawed characters, and realistic dialogue, Chinatown is very much one of the best American movies made in the past 30 years... and one of the best in the world.
2004-05-20
Capturing the True Spirit of Film-noir
The seventies were the last years of great (American) films. I say films because when we speak of movies nowadays, we allude to blockbusters that generate hundreds of millions of dollars, the least amount of controversy, and are mostly inane crowd pleasers with tacked-on endings.

Consider the output of influential film makers Allen during that time: Coppola, Scorsese, Altman, Lumet, Ashby, Bogdanovich, to name a few Americans, not to mention European directors Fellini, Bergman, Wertmuller, Truffaut, Argento, Saura, and Bunuel -- all household names in those days. Before Spielberg and Lucas came along, not a single one of these made movies appealing to the "summer blockbuster tradition," and unlike Spielberg or Lucas, they have a body of work filled in high artistic quality with minimum special effects and a lasting mark on future generations.

Polanski is another one of these directors, and with "Chinatown," he reaches his directorial peak amidst the scandals which seemed to taint everything except his art. One can only imagine him in the forties, living his scandals, and transmuting this into high art -- when film-noir was at its darkest. Thankfully he lived in a time which did not demand the "happy ending" or re-shoots in order to be politically correct -- else "Chinatown" would have lost its devastating punch and conformed to the norm.

A departure from the horror genre which brought Polanski to stardom, he re-creates an equally grim genre with his jaded view of 1930s Los Angeles down to the choice of the color palette, and using the acting powers of Dunaway and Nicholson to a fantastic effect, he creates haunting characters who can't be easily dismissed as film-noir archetypes without looking very closely at their reactions, listening to their words, and following their progressive involvement in a plot which threatens to swallow them whole, and ultimately does. And having Huston play Noah Cross -- who virtually took noir to its heights with "The Maltese Falcon" -- Polanski hits the mark dead center, because Huston is the hardened heart of the corruption in "Chinatown." In brief scenes he creates a character almost unbearably evil with a hint of madness just underneath, and how he affects the characters around him will pervade the viewer long after the credits have rolled -- after all, he is the person who tells Nicholson he has no idea what he's getting himself into.

I doubt this movie could be made today for reasons stated above. I'm thankful Polanski's vision prevailed, and not Towne's. Film-noir is a genre about human darkness, and here, the envelope is pushed all the way through, making this film, in my opinion, rank second to "The Maltese Falcon."
2004-09-10
Stylish and intriguing
Stylish and intriguing.

Los Angeles in the early-1930s. A private detective, JJ Gittes (played by Jack Nicholson), is hired by a woman to investigate her husband, as she suspects he is having an affair. Her husband, Hollis Mulwray, is the chief water engineer for the city of Los Angeles. Soon after Gittes delivers the photos that seem to confirm her suspicions, he meets the real wife of the man. Intrigued, Gittes investigates further. Then Mr Mulwray turns up dead...

A clever, slow-burning thriller from director Roman Polanski. Information is gained slowly, heightening the intrigue. Many red herrings, and detours. Nothing is obvious. To make things even more complex, there's not just one plot line in play...

Very film noir like in its feel. You could easily see Humphrey Bogart as Gittes...

Good work by Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway in the leading roles. Good support from John Huston.

Not perfect though. The movie loses momentum in the last third or so, focusing on a lesser plot and amplifying the detour by an extended wild goosechase. Ultimately this sub-plot is necessary, to an extent, but it needn't have had so much time devoted to it. Just when the movie was ready to kick up a gear, having idled along previously, it went sideways rather than forward.
2016-02-08
Reputation outlived the replay...
So this film is not recommended? Not so fast! When noir is mixed with other genres, it is the noir that music be in the forefront, for my entertainment value. If not we have a murder mystery detective film with a dash of old school homage. The story here is both predictable as it is suspenseful and without the big screen presence of jack Nicholson may have not been anything more of a Roman Polanski diversion. The Los Angeles story is a great one to build around, but the "you don't know who you're messing around with" angle has been further exonerated from ingratiating gangster or back story horror plots decades ago and was left with a lack of follow through here. John Huston' villain carried as much weight as Marlon Brandro did in his later years. Big name, hot hair. Faye Dunaway is lost in this role after owning her strong role in Bonnie and Clyde and Network. Possibly my expectations outlived the replay.
2017-08-05
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