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After the war, L.A. private eye Jake Gittes is hired by realtor Jake Berman. He proves the infidelity of Berman's wife Kitty and sets up a way for her to be caught in the act. At the rendezvous, Berman shoots the co-respondent who turns out to be his business partner. Gittes finds himself in the middle of a complicated web, under pressure from all sides for a wire recording of the fatal encounter. He then realises that the land the partners were developing was once an orange grove connected with a case he has never quite got over. Written by
Jeremy Perkins <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Just because it's no Chinatown, doesn't make this film bad
The Two Jakes and The Godfather 3 were released in the second half of 1990 and both films proved that sometimes it's best not to tamper with classics. This is not necessarily because sometimes a sequel can't compliment a classic, but because no matter what you do, there's no way to avoid comparing the new versions to the old. And the final chapter of the Godfather trilogy is vastly inferior to the first two. And Two Jakes is vastly inferior to Chinatown. But since Chinatown and the first two Godfathers are among the best films every made, that's a pretty pointless comparison. Just as The Godfather 3 stands on its own as a very sturdy and interesting piece of filmmaking, Two Jakes also works on its own merits. It's confusing, overlong (a full ten minutes more than the original), and never fully gels, but it's also passionate, intelligent filmmaking. Go figure.
In his autobiography, producer Robert Evans refers to Robert Towne's script for Two Jakes as basically only half-finished. It was half-finished when they started shooting, half-finished when they made it half-way through the shoot, and it pretty much feels half-finished in the final product. This is a movie where characters wander in and out and a full two-thirds of the storylines go essentially unresolved. The grand climax of the film (and trust me, I'm not spoiling anything) is an evidentiary hearing, for heavens sakes! And I couldn't really explain the plot if I wanted to, but here's the quick summary: It's fifteen years after Chinatown and Jake Gittes Jack Nicholson) has become older, fatter, and a good deal more bitter. He's now an Investigator respected throughout LA, but he's still haunted by his experiences with the Mulwrays, especially the late Evelyn. The film begins with a jealous husband, Jake Berman (Harvey Keitel), storming into a hotel room and killing his wife's lover, with Jake listening in the next room. Of course, you know the crime probably wasn't entirely about love or lust and that money probably had something to do with it. Money, history, and oil, actually. And it spins in circles from there.
It's easy to notice that the film slacks off at around the half-way point. It's then that you realize just how tight Robert Towne's Chinatown script was. Even at a shred over two hours, every word counts, every gesture, every twist. Two Jakes is flabby in comparison. The dialogue is pleasantly hardboiled and the actors enjoy delivering it, but the resolutions of the various mysteries mostly fall flat. You either see them coming, or don't understand when they arrive. It's to Towne and director Jack Nicholson's credit that the film ends on a number of satisfying grace notes.
Nicholson's direction is almost never the source of the film's flaws. And this is legitimately high praise in a film as twisting and convoluted as this. Of course, he again makes you appreciate the brilliant economy of Roman Polanski's direction of Chinatown, a film with an immeasurable amount of class. Nicholson produces several wonderful moments including a beautiful pull shot from the ocean to a teatime conversation with Kahn (who Chinatown fans will avidly remember). Nicholson and director of photography Vilmos Zsigmond capture a Los Angeles of burnt out dreams, on the brink of overdevelopment and overexpansion. The film has noir stylings but it respectfully looks different from Chinatown.
Nicholson's performance is more a study of what has happened to the actor since Chinatown, rather than what has happened to the character. Because Jack was less of an icon when Chinatown was made, the original Jake Gittes is one of his least iconic performances. By the time he won his Oscar the next year for One Flew Over The Cuckoo's nest Nicholson had already become JACK (in all caps) and he hasn't looked back. In Two Jakes, Jake Gittes has become JACK. There's no getting around it. However, there's also no getting around the fact that Nicholson is a great actor and even if his performances are frequently variations on a theme, it's a pretty super theme.
Two Jakes is peppered with supporting performances of varying degrees of depth. Harvey Keitel has never been better as the second of the two Jakes. His character is emotionally complicated and perhaps the only person in the film (besides Gittes) who gets to go through a character arc. He plays it wonderfully. The femmes fatale in the film, as played by Madeline Stowe and Meg Tilly are less and more complicated than they seem. Ruben Blade, Richard Farnsworth, and Eli Wallach provide capable support when they're given anything to do.
The fact is that like the Godfather 3, if you came upon Two Jakes with a completely open mind, you'd find it a complicated thriller, vastly more substantial than most films of the genre. The fact that it's got its flaws that it'll never compare to Chinatown are the basis for a 7/10 rating.
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