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What a depressing ending! But it's the ending that elevated the film's status to a masterpiece in my eyes. It started out like a simple detective story, but the plot kept turning, and it's anything but simple or conventional. Jack Nicholson gave one of the best performances of his career, and we kept finding out more and more about Faye Dunaway's character, eventually knowing, shockingly to me, why she was both fond and afraid of intimacy. No line in the script is wasted. The cinematography painted a great picture of L.A., reminding me of Collateral, and the music score is fantastic as well. It is a real thriller full of mystery, kept me guessing all the time, but also a real tragedy in a personal level. I feel bad Chinatown had to compete with Godfather II in the same year. It deserves more wins out of its 11 Academy nominations.
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.
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.
As I mentioned briefly, the film's plot can be complex as the film will turn down a completely different path in a heartbeat. Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) is a private investigator who specializes in matrimonial affairs. One day, he gets a visit from a woman claiming to be Evelyn Mulwray. She tells Jake that her husband is cheating on her and she would like Jake to investigate her claims. He does his job by taking photographs of him and he catches him with another woman. That ensues a scandal and Gittes is confronted by the real Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway). When the husband shows up dead, Gittes is led deeper and deeper in a web of deceit, lies, and murder.
This movie is given its voice by a variety of elements such as Robert Towne's fantastic screenplay or Roman Polanksi's visionary directing style. But let's not forget about the wonderful performances including the tour de force performance by screen legend, Jack Nicholson. Nicholson's performance is nothing short of excellent as he portrays Jake Gittes. I loved how the movie gave in-depth characterization to this character. Gittes may not be the nicest man in the world, but he's a man of honor and honesty. The movie is all about lies and that forms a rather bleak mental state for Gittes. All we wants to do is find the truth and move on, but that seems impossible to do with all the lies and murder. Nicholson was nominated for an Oscar for his performance, and some might say he should have won. Who can forget that scene at the river bed where he is slashed in the nose by this random creep. Faye Dunaway also delivers an amazing performance. On the outside her character makes you believe she is good, but she has some fishy motives about her. Gittes falls in love with her, but he can't take her sneaky lies. Then we have the performance of John Huston, the legendary director who plays Evelyn's father. His character, Noah Cross is the antagonist of the film one would say as he wants to use his wealth to control the water. That dinner scene between Noah and Jake is quite something. Noah and his mean, beady eyes are put to good use.
This film was directed by Roman Polanski, before he was extradited to Europe and could only make films there. This movie has him returning back to the director's chair, only a few years after the brutal murder of his wife and unborn child. I loved his sense of direction and he really captured the noir feeling you would find in the films of the 1940's. His conflict with the screenwriter Robert Towne became somewhat famous. Towne had the film end with a happy ending, but Polanksi went against that. The ending is not a happy one as we get some unfortunate deaths from the wrong people, but it was an effective ending nonetheless. No matter what, Robert Towne written one of the best screenplays of all time and that will endure for many, many years into our future.
Even though Chinatown is a fictional movie, it's based of the Los Angeles water grab of 1908. This is a city that formed in a desert and it should be impossible for water to exist, which makes the control of the water ever more so fundamental. Towne did a great job adding his own 1930's spin to the story. This movie is undeniably a great film. The pace crawls at times, but the content of the story kept me captivated. This is not an action thriller, but it's one of those slow-burn thrillers focused on telling a top-rate story. The film fires on all cylinders because of it's wonderful acting and solid direction. But we also have a great but sad, trumpet-infused score from Jerry Goldsmith and cinematography from John A. Alonzo that captures the L.A of old in a very effective way. Let's not forget about the award-winning screenplay from Robert Towne. Nominated for 11 Oscars, this film is worth a watch. This is a fantastic thriller that relies upon excellent storytelling.
My Grade: A-
The writing and the acting, too, is straight out of the best tradition of film noir. Robert Towne's excellent Oscar-winning script, written with Jack Nicholson in mind for the central character of LA private detective J.J.Gittes, is written entirely from Gittes' perspective (I don't believe there's a single scene in which he doesn't figure). If Bogart was the epitome of Chandler's Marlowe in the 40's, then Nicholson is a worthy successor, and I wonder whether Towne ever considered writing another screenplay around the same character. When I first saw this film when it came out, I hadn't seen Nicholson before, and I remember being just blown away (I didn't see Easy Rider until a couple of years later). Faye Dunaway and the superbly cast John Huston complete the triangle, and we only discover their relative roles in the mystery as Gittes gradually pieces the complex jigsaw together, which of course is just how it should be. The supporting actors are more than adequate, secondary to the story but never detracting from it, with Perry Lopez doing a great job as the struggling but confident lieutenant (who of course is a former colleague of Gittes).
But for me, Polanski himself is the star of this film (and I don't mean his nice little cameo part). I'm glad he wasn't tempted to shoot in black-and-white, though it wouldn't have been out of place -- the consistently washed-out colour so well delivers the sense of the heat and the desert (only the blue of the ocean and the bright lights of Chinatown itself stand out), and his choice of shot, variety of speed, and attention to detail never distract the viewer, nor detract from the acting and the unfolding tale. It's only after the film is over, when you sit back in admiration, that you realise there really wasn't a single moment when you were impatient to move on, or lost track of the plot, or felt a wrong note had been hit. I regard this, along with his recent superb version of Oliver Twist, to be his best works. And that's not an easy choice to make.
There is nothing confusing about how this film looks. It's a treat for one's eyes, especially if you love that 1940s look, which I do. This movie just drips with Los Angeles film noir atmosphere: a rich-looking piece of cinema with great period detail.
What stands out in most people's memory of this film is another odd thing: a man's nose getting sliced. Here, it's Jack Nicholson getting a "nose job" courtesy of some thugs. Jack, playing "Jake Gittes," will forever be known (among wild roles) as the guy with a bandage on his nose, thanks to this movie. As interesting as he is, along with Faye Dunaway and the rest of the cast, I always get a kick out of seeing John Huston in here. I love the way he sounds and acts, and I'm sorry he had such a short role.
Overall, an always-fascinating film no matter how many times you watch it or how well you understand it.
Roman Polanski's Chinatown is a slow, brooding film-noir reminiscent of the 40's. Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway are perfectly cast, the background score is sublime and the dark detective story is consistently engaging and very, very classy.
A well-crafted film-noir, albeit a bit slow but if you don't mind the pacing it's rather riveting in places, especially the second half.
Thumbs up for this mysterious suspense-drama if you're in the mood for a good slow-burner. Recommended.
Nicholson is the front and center actor in this film, but Huston's performance was the best I've ever seen of his.
Chinatown offers one of the most hilarious and awkward Romania scene I have ever seen. Imagine Nicholson kissing a beautiful woman with a giant bandage covering his nose. Makes me laugh every time.
Highly recommend this film and it should be on most critic's Top 100 films of all time.
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.
Twenty-two pages of comments is too much to wade through to see if anyone else has caught this. I haven't seen it in the first 5 or 10.
Ever wonder why investigating marital affairs is Jake's "metier"? Don't crucify me on the spelling, OK? Ever wonder what sets the level of society's opinion of a private investigator in a small town like L.A.? Why does Curly get upset and why does his wife get a black eye? When the movie CORRECTLY opens Jake is skulking through the underbrush after having trailed Curley's wife and her lover. He locates them and takes the revealing pictures, with some amusement, that are shown to Curly, in the office later.
I can't believe this is not how the DVD opens. Maybe someday there will be a special edition that corrects this. This is how TV would show the movie, so I don't doubt that upon further inspection, additional cuts were found. A couple of generations of film watchers have been cheated.
Chinatown centers on a '30s Los Angeles private investigator, Jake Gittes (who turned to the profession after being unable to work as a police officer in the corrupt environment present in his assigned district of Chinatown), who is tricked into digging up dirt on the head of the department in charge of the city's water (a hot issue as Los Angeles was experiencing a drought). When the man soon turns up dead, Jake's investigation reveals a conspiracy much larger than he had imagined. Though the conspiracy itself is intricate and intriguing, and the characters are very compelling, the real draw of the plot is in its themes. Do not go into this film too focused on the minutiae of the plot, but rather look at what the picture as a whole, and particularly its ending, is trying to say about American greed.
The acting is terrific, with three great performances by Nicholson, Dunaway, and Huston. The direction is precise and tight yet patient, allowing scenes to develop naturally while always driving the plot along. The filming feels rather restrained and almost classical for the most part, and many shots feel like they could have easily have been from a film from several decades earlier. The music too feels this way, the Jerry Goldsmith composed score evokes instantly evokes the noir films which Chinatown takes most of its cues from.
A cynical look at the greed and corruption that shaped America, Chinatown is a classic of '70s American cinema, and a must watch for any fan of film.
I could say things like "one of the most beautifully photographed films I've ever seen" or "a tremendously plotted narrative that unfolds as a perfect pace" or even " one the greatest films I've had the pleasure of viewing" but none of those statements seem to do this remarkable film justice. When I talk about Chinatown I end up talking about a film that has all the pieces of truly great cinema. Lets talk about lush and romantically lit cinematography that relies heavily on beautiful hand held composition. It all feels simultaneously throw back and yet strangely modern...its period with out feeling self conscious. Lets talk about a plot that expects you to pay attention. Its not going to do that thing so many films do when in the third act the protagonist has figured things out and goes through this big expositionary speech accompanied by flashbacks to events in the first and second act that serve only to help the idiots who haven't been paying attention. Lets talk about Jack Nichnolson in the lead role as Jake' Gittes, and what a fine role it is. His motivations are neither self-righteous or heroic he simply wants to preserve his reputation and continue to make his "honest living". Then the director literally comes along and gives him even more motivation by damn near cutting his nose off. At the end of the day probably the most telling thing I can say about this film is that every time I watch it I only want to watch it again...and agin and....
Directed by Roman Polanski and starring Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway it was made in the pre-blockbuster era and really shows the brilliance of the director rather than a few gimmicky CGI effects and laser beams!
The film noir genre is epitomised by films from the forties shot in black and white and sort of detective thrillers. Here we have a Technicolor film from 1974 revisiting the genre. The performance of Nicholson as private detective Jake Gittes is mesmerising and up there with his other great roles. Gittes is an ex-policeman who worked in the Chinatown district of Los Angeles. Now a private detective in 1930s LA. He becomes embroiled in the private life of the chief engineer of LA's water and power department. Hired by his so called wife at the films beginning he later discovers it wasn't actually who she claimed. Investigating further what turns out to be so called adultery actually becomes a murder, greed and intimidation case involving the local water supply!
The story could actually have been a screenplay for an episode of Murder, She Wrote but the performances of the cast and ultimately its direction by Polanski are wonderful to watch. It's the camera angles, the screenplay, photography that all come to the fore.
No doubt you will never have heard of it but I would highly recommended it over the modern multiplex trash.
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.
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.
Chinatown is almost the perfect movie. The direction is outstanding. Polanski knows how to tell a story as good as anyone. The perfect camera angles and the perfect shots are taken as we take a dive in two the mind of J.J. Gittes a private detective who reiterates that he makes a fair living. He is masterfully played by none other that Jack Nicholson who gives one of his best performance that can be ranked alongside his performances in 'The Shining' and 'Cuckoo's Nest' Nicholson gives a very controlled performance. There is no unnecessary shouting or going over the top. He begins to uncover a terrible plot over in L.A. that involves the water department,incest,adultery and Chinatown. Robert Towne wrote this script in the traditional noir way with voice-over and the like but Polanski eliminated all the voice-over so the audience would uncover the mystery as Gittes would and was that a good decision. The movie is an absorbing 2 hour experience as you get completely lost as the plot unravels and more of the mystery unfolds. It is tremendously quotable movie. It has a noir touch to it that is obvious from the overture but the touch is so light that the movie simply floats on this delightful little script. Recently the movie was named on a list of the seven films to see before you die. Well I generally disagree with such lists because it's the apples over oranges thing isn't it. But Chinatown is a brilliant film. The ending is so powerful that it can knock most films out of the water with just that. It leaves you feeling frightened, challenged and with so many questions that you can debate about it for hours on end. And that is what Art really should accomplish. It should encourage discussion and that is what Chinatown does. You can call the movie anything you want but it sure as hell is a piece of art.
His response: "Isn't everybody?"
I don't blame him for being lonely.
You see, the cliché in film noir was to create a character totally at ease in the sleazy world he lives and operates in. This can be boring and exasperating when handled badly; it feels like the movie has left you by the wayside. In Chinatown, Robert Towne and Jack Nicholson broke this rule: Nicholson's Jake Gittes is not comfortable in this world. Even before being thrust into the web of deceit and corruption he seems uncomfortable. He clearly pities the cuckolded spouses he sees day to day. He's tired of lying.
When Gittes begins to unravel the plot it is frequently surprising the lengths he goes to, at great personal risk, to see the bad guys punished. He is smart enough to know that no one will believe him; as Faye Dunaway's femme fatale tells him, "he owns the police!". Gittes is drowning in a sea of moral turpitude, looking for something good to hang onto, some sign that all is not lost.
The horribly shocking ending, it has to be said, does not provide him with this, but the performances of Nicholson, Huston and Dunaway make this world much more believable to us.
"Chinatown" is a film noir without film noir; it rewrites the rules, illustrating them and elevating the genre.