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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
It's Chinatown.
As is often the case with any Jack Nicholson film, Jack was the greatest part of this film. While it is said to be a crime thriller meant to keep audiences on their toes with its action and drama, which is not really the effect that Chinatown has on the audience. This film actually makes more of a statement on the social and political situations in the United States (in this case L.A). If audiences walk into this film expecting a mindless crime thriller, then they will be sorely disappointed.

In a broad sense, this film is about America as a corrupt capitalist society. Jack Nicholson's character J.J Gitte seems to be one of the only characters in the film who sees the water drought in Los Angeles for what it really is—the controlling of a vital source of life for a civilization by the rich and powerful. The rich and powerful owners of capitalism are represented in the film by the character of Noah Cross and (most of) the members of the Water Department. These men are able to use money and power of influence to re-route the city's water to certain places in order to make themselves even more money. It's a classic case of the rich getting richer by stealing from the poor. J.J sees through this and as a private investigator used to dealing with cheating spouses, he gets himself in way over his head while investigating the death of Noah Cross' partner (and son-in-law), Hollis Mulwray. Hollis, it appears, was one of the good guys, one of the liberal men like J.J, wanting to do good. It was his decision to give the ownership of the city's water to the people instead of himself and the corrupt Noah Cross.

The characteristics of Noah Cross and J.J Gitte are almost entirely opposite from one another. Also, the way that these two men treat women seems to be indicative of the way they treat others. Throughout the film, references to J.J's past working in Chinatown seem to be ever present. It comes to our attention that J.J left Chinatown when he tried to "save someone from getting hurt" but couldn't. It's to be assumed that he tried to help out a woman that he had feelings for, failed, and that she died. This is exactly what happens to Mrs. Evelyn Cross Mulwray. He falls in love with her (or at least lust), tries to help her, and it ends up turning out exactly as his past Chinatown experience. J.J tries to do good, but there are so many powerful situations beyond his control that he simply cannot. Noah Cross, on the other hand, controls everything. Throughout the film we come across many different people who's actions have been influenced by Cross. It then comes to our attention that Noah Cross raped Evelyn when she was 15 years old, that she got pregnant, and that the child—Katherine—is both Evelyn's sister and her daughter. It is no understatement to say that Noah Cross literally controls everything around him—including his daughter and what to do to her. He seems to embody the epitome of cruel, whereas J.J embodies the epitome of naïve goodness.

Chinatown itself is another symbol present in the film. Chinatown appears to be the place where everything goes wrong for the good guy. There's no law in Chinatown, there's nothing to stop the rich and powerful from getting away with whatever they want. It is the end of goodness, as is represented by the murder of Evelyn Cross Mulwray by one of the cops. J.J's associate walks up to him as he is staring at Evelyn's dead body in the car and listening to Katherine's screams as she is taken away by her cruel grandfather/father. The situation is entirely hopeless, so all he can think to say to J.J is "Forget it Jake, it's Chinatown." It's a powerful last moment of the film, but it still offers no relief to the audience. We know that J.J won't be able to stop Cross' plans to steal a majority of the city's water to help himself profit during a drought, we know that Katherine will be raised by her "grandfather" and perhaps suffer the same fate with him that Evelyn did, and we know that there is no solving the fact that the nation (symbolized by Chinatown) will never stop being run by the corrupt because the good are powerless to stop it.
2006-03-10
The Best Neo-Noir Film!
This is a movie that pays great homage to the film-noir movies of the 30's and 40's. If this wasn't a color film with 1970's actors, I would have believed this film was made in 1940. This is certainly the best neo-noir film you could hope for. This is also the film that gave Jack Nicholson a long career in the movie business.

This film is pretty much a private detective who thinks he is investigating with an adultery case. However, that is just the beginning of all the mystery that is yet to come.

The acting is marvelous. I would expect great performances from the likes of Nicholson and Dunaway but their performances were just beyond greatness.

Another thing that stands out is the original screenplay by Robert Towne. This screenplay is perhaps why this movie is one of the best films ever made.

Overall, this is an Oscar-caliber film that is worth watching. Even if you're not a film buff, I would still check out this film. It's a bit long but you won't notice the time in Chinatown. I rate this film 9/10.
2012-07-22
First-rate detective drama
'Chinatown' is one of the best films of the 70s and without doubt one of the most memorable in the crime/detective genre. This is a first- rate picture all round with very few faults, if any. The story is complex but relatively easy to follow, which I prefer to films that are too smart for their own good. It's an intelligent mystery that captures your attention from the start and has no problem in holding it for the duration of the film.

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.
2017-08-23
Best NOIR ever made!
After masterpieces like "Knife in the water", "Repulsion" and "Rosemary's Baby". Roman Polanski (one of the best directors who ever lived, and lives), proved to be a competent director and screenwriter in various genres, decided to make a tribute to the genre that he grew up watching, "Noir", in the best way possible. Doing in my opinion his ultimate masterpiece!

"Chinatown" tells the story of J.J. "Jake" Gittes (Jack Nicholson), a private detective in L.A., specialized in cases of marriage. One day, he is hired by Evelyn Mulwray, who suspect's of her husband Hollis Mulwray (Darrell Zwerling), the builder of the water supply system of the city, thinking that he is having an affair. Jake then does what he does best with his assistants and follows and takes photos of Hollis with his young lover, inadvertently causing a huge scandal in the press. Later after a job well done, Jake gets into his office the real Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway) putting a process in Jake accusing him of fraud. Jake knowing that he was set-up, he begins to investigate who was the fake Mrs. Mulwray, and trying to get in touch with Hollis Mulwray, because he believe that who cheated him wanted to hurt Mr. Mulwray. Only when Jake tries to contact Mulwray, he is found dead in a channeling of the water system of the city. Now Jake asks the help of the real Mrs. Mulwray to help him in his investigation of those responsible for the death of the poor man, but this will take him into a web of lies and corruption, keeping horrible secrets of the city.

Polanski from the beginning wanted to do a tribute to the films noir of the '40s and '50s, and he did it "perfectly". First unite the types of cases and scandals of a usual noir film: policy; familial cases; xenophobia and racism; corruption; and of course murder. Mixing humor, and also dark and thrilling moments to the history. Thanks to a superb direction of Polanski, and also the strongest point of the film (and surprisingly the only Oscar that the film received), the script.

The script by Robert Towne, who was initially written by Polanski, is superb in every possible detail. Very well written from start to finish, giving the film a wonderful narrative that flows perfectly without ever getting boring and also, thanks to the influence of Polanski, is full of humor. But it also never ceases to be serious and dark when needs to be, giving superb dialogs to the film, adding a lot to the history. Not only long conversations about the case, but also on the definition of what is justice, spread all over the film. Jake before he was a private detective, he was a police officer in Chinatown, and saw many terrible things. And he says in a moment in the film that justice doesn't exist, only we can make-it.

Not only the script and direction that construct the film excellently, but also the magnificent actors. Jack Nicholson at the beginning of his career is definitely superb, from start to finish with his huge smile and his angry face, opening a huge future in front of him; Faye Dunaway simply wonderful, she is the mixture of all the heroines of a Noir film, and mature fragile; even Polanski with a small and dark appearance.

Polanski, at its best, making an incredible tribute to the Noir genre (perhaps the best Noir movie ever made) with a superb script, beautiful direction, excellent performances, a story that leaves you intrigued and drag you to the end with laughs and chills, and after the end even tears.

10/10
2013-09-28
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
Chinatown
This film is perfect. I cannot find any flaws in this movie whatsoever. This is Jack Nicholson at his best he is completely engulfed in the role, and in a way there could not be a J.J. Gittes without Nicholson. Faye Dunaway is no exception, she is just as precise as Nicholson, and the two compliment each other throughout the film continually. Polanski is a brilliant director. The mise-en-scene of this film is really unmatched. Everything comes together to give the audience the amazing experience of the movie. The scenery of the desert is perfect for this film. Everything about this movie leads up to the final scene, where you realize that even if you do everything right, and try as hard as you can to do the right thing it does not work out. This film is sometimes categorized as a neo-noir, and the ending satisfies that classification.
2015-05-13
Water Water Everywhere
I was so glad to see that this great film of almost forty years ago is still being reviewed at the IMDb site. Great film critics have given this film its due credit over the years. I saw it when it first came out in 1974 and then again recently on a friend's home theater screen. And many times in between. Viewers should read what else they can about Chinatown to gain further insights to its mastery, but one of the great masterstrokes is the way the script weaves "water" into the film...and water is what the key crime is all about...the one Jake Gittes has to solve. Lack of water (an L.A. drought) is the setting; one of the characters is named Noah; water is the murder weapon; and water is characterized as the builder of a great city. Shaping a key image like this is just one of the ways this script excels. A great film.
2013-03-12
A noir masterpiece, possibly even a timeless classic...
While I don't care too much for Roman Polanski's style of direction(maybe I'll grow to like it eventually, maybe not), I can't deny that this is a truly great film. Jack Nicholson really shines through in his role, and his acting in this film perfectly fits the character... his shark smile, his voice, his tone... all of it, perfect. I always thought, when watching films with Nicholson, that he'd make a great lead in a noir film, so when I found this film and discovered that it was indeed noir, I naturally saw it as soon as possible. I found the film to have a slightly slower pace than what I would have preferred or expected, but apart from that minor detail, it was flawless. The plot is great, and thoroughly interesting and involving. The pacing, while not fast all the time, is more than acceptable. There are sequences that are really intense and exciting. The acting is great... like I said earlier, Nicholson shines through and really takes this character and makes him his own. The characters are well-written and credible. The special effects are well-done and still hold up pretty well. The dialog is very well-written and memorable. There are quite a few quotable lines, as well. The cinematography is good, and even when the plot doesn't move a lot, Polanski keeps our interest through interesting angles and sequences. I liked that there was often something subtle going on in the background, while we're focusing on what's directly in front of us. While Polanski certainly doesn't possess the attention to detail that Kubrick does, he manages to put a good bit of detail into many of the shots, and there is fairly little left to coincidence or chance, much like Kubrick. The film has a few twists that are quite good, and they come as surprises... I don't think I really saw them coming, and I doubt anyone would be able to. Of course, some might not find the twists to be that impressive, but the story stands on it's own nicely as well. This is a great movie, which should be seen by just about anyone who can take it(it's more than just casually adult in nature, even though there's not that much violence or sex in it). I recommend this film to anyone who enjoys film noir, watching Jack Nicholson in perfect shape in a role that was tailor-made for him, a good mystery, Roman Polanski's direction and just a good movie with a more adult tone that many others. 10/10
2004-12-23
Pretentious and over-rated
Spoiler follows.

Actually, the movie is its own spoiler. I just point it out.

On the DVD are comments by writer, director, and producer. The writer says he wrote the screenplay with a happy ending, I suppose like the much superior L.A. Confidential, or like the sublimely weird Wild Side. But the director -- an artiste of insufferable pomposity -- would have none of it. A happy ending was not literary enough for his effete sensibilities, or maybe it would have hurt too much, after the recent brutal murder of his own wife. In any case, he insisted on killing the heroine, and thereby killed his movie for me. R.I.P.

Chinatown is a handsome production, with a great look, and mostly good performances. John Huston is eerily accurate as the evil political boss -- compare his performance to the real-life drug lord in the Colombia segment of Michael Palin's documentary, Full Circle, filmed about 25 years later. But it takes more than isolated elements to make a memorable movie, one worth watching more than once. This film falls apart with a 'thud' at the end, making it an experience I would not want to repeat. 6/10
2002-11-25
This is the writer's film, not the director's!
It has always annoyed me when a screenwriter's contribution is overlooked so the director can jump to the front of the credit parade, as far as importance to the project is determined. In his book "Hollywood Animal", Joe (Basic Instinct) Eszterhas describes how the man who lensed two of his scripts, Costa Gavras, was talking at a college and the so called film students, who've bought into this auteur theory, didn't really get it that somebody else conceived and wrote the piece in the first place.

Robert Towne is a man who apparently is very fast with doctoring others' stories and very slow with the completion of his own scripts. If it really took him seven years to write "Chinatown" (as Robert Evans claimed in "The Kid Stays In The Picture"), then it was worth it for the whole world out there. This is an original work which should be judged differently than adapted projects. In "Premiere" magazine a few years ago, there was a list of the best screenplays ever. Well, to be fair, one should separate the "Chinatown"s of the industry from films that turn plays, TV shows, video games and novels into big screen transformations.

Towne's reputation as the guy most young writers look up to is secure, even if he never wrote anything else again. On the commentary for "Wonderland", James Cox and Captain Mauzner are practically jumping up and down recalling a meeting they had with Towne, at which he lauded praise on their John Holmes based investigation/exploration.

Yes, Towne can create indelible characters and scenarios which actors and even in this case, directors, should kiss his hand for. I see there is a disc out now with a commentary track featuring David Fincher and Towne. Can't wait to hear that!

"Chinatown" was vintage before the recalling of the past was just another cinematic cliché and excuse for young men to wear their grand pappy's old suits. The 1930s are beaming with some promise here and the unscrupulous moguls have a plan to get really rich (as if they weren't already) by screwing whoever they have to out of their fair share of nature's resources.

Jack Nicholson and his almost father in law, John Huston, are both perfect in their roles as the detective and the crusty bastard whose evil lies at the heart of this whole display of an era when shame had much more power than it does in today's tell all society.

Faye Dunaway has her finest moments in a terrific career in this epic. She shows (and doesn't at key moments) the full range of emotions this resilient lady is always going through and that a woman's world seventy plus years ago was radically different than today's.

"Chinatown" is certainly one of the great works of art from film's first century. Let's hope some other rich in spirit and plotting screenwriter watches this, for the first or hundredth time, and pens something worth being in the same category of quality.
2009-12-13
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