“Either you bring the water to L.A., or you bring L.A. to the water.”
In 1930s Los Angeles, a private detective (Jack Nicholson) finds himself embroiled in a complicated plot of murder, corruption, and twisted sexuality.
Response to Peary’s Review:
Widely acknowledged as a modern American classic, Roman Polanski’s Chinatown is indispensable viewing for all film fanatics. As Peary notes, it’s a “superlative detective picture” with a “powerful Oscar-winning script”, and a central mystery which “gets more complicated by the minute”; indeed, one must watch carefully and attentively in order to catch all the story’s nuances. The performances across the board are excellent, with Jack Nicholson particularly well-cast as hardboiled Jake Gittes, a savvy P.I. who nonetheless always seems to be one step behind the game. He’s often unable to calculate who’s guilty and who’s not; it’s only through sheer persistence, sly investigative techniques, and a willingness to commit occasional violence that he gets anywhere. Faye Dunaway is fragile and mysterious as a woman with a heavy past (who may or may not be guilty), and John Huston is truly frightening as Dunaway’s wealthy tycoon father.
In addition to its wonderful performances, Chinatown is full of many unforgettable scenes: Gittes getting his nose slashed by a thug (Polanski in cameo); Gittes spying on Dunaway and a mysterious young woman through a window (and, later, discovering who the woman is); Gittes driving recklessly through an orange grove while being chased by gun-wielding farmers; Gittes smooth-talking his way into a rest home. Perhaps most memorable, however, is the film’s overall look and feel, including John Alonzo’s luminous cinematography, Richard Sylbert’s meticulous production design, Jerry Goldsmith’s score, and Polanski’s excellent use of outdoor locales in the greater L.A. area (ranging from Catalina Island to concrete sewers to farmland to — famously, in the final scene — Chinatown itself). While Chinatown is too depressing to be a personal favorite, there’s no denying the sheer visceral power of its story, characters, and settings.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Jack Nicholson as J.J. “Jake” Gittes
- Faye Dunaway as Evelyn Mulwray
- John Huston as Noah Cross
- Jake’s clever ruse at the public documents office
- The infamous “nose slashing” scene (with a cameo by Polanski)
- Evocative period set designs, props, and costumes
- Good use of diverse L.A. landscapes
- Gorgeous cinematography
- Robert Towne’s intelligent script
- The surprise plot twist near the end
Yes. This highly esteemed detective flick is definitely must-see viewing.
(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)