Reviews of Chinatown
Displaying all 14 reviews
Chinatown is a tremendous collaborative effort that produced one of the most memorable Hollywood pictures of the 1970’s. Director Roman Polanski (his last film in America, and the first he made in America after the murder of Sharon Tate), stars Jack Nicholson & Faye Dunaway, and writer Robert Towne, all come together to create a detective story classic. At times it slows its pace down so the viewer can think along with Nicholson’s character, to take in the environment as well as the situation he’s in (i.e. when he goes to the empty reservoir, when he visits Noah Crosses house the first time). And the script has the perfect sense of drawing us into a story, fueled by curiosity, grit, and cynicism, and engages the viewer by its realistic dialog between the characters.
J.J. Gittes (Nicholson, in one of his best 70’s performances) is in Los Angeles circa 1933 in the line of private investigator, usually dealing with people who may or may not believe that their significant other is having an affair. Evelyn Mulwray feels this may be the case with her husband Hollis, and Gittes decides to take the case. However, this draws him into a deeper case involving the city’s loss of water once Hollis- a major player in the water supply controversy in the city- is found murdered. This eventually leads him to Noah Cross (John Huston), a big businessman and who also happens to be Evelyn’s father. Intrigue starts to develop, as Jake’s own life begins to be at risk.
As a intricate, detailed detective story the film is an above-average work, with Towne’s script containing the maturity, and wicked sense of humor, of a James M. Cain or Raymond Chandler novel. When the thrills come they come as being striking. And when humanity and compassion get thrown into the mix, the film reaches a whole other plane of intelligence. The last third of the film could turn off some of the audience (depending on one’s own level of belief), but it holds strong thanks to the performances. Nicholson doesn’t over-step his bounds in any scene, finding the right notes in suggestive conversations. Dunaway is better than expected (though I’m not sure if it’s an great performance). And Huston’s Noah Cross is one of the more disturbing villains of that period in movies. Add to it some good cameos (Burt Young as a driver, Polanski playing the little guy in the infamous ‘knife’ scene), and a smooth soundtrack by Jerry Goldsmith, Chinatown comes out as strong piece of movie-making, and arguably one of the greatest in the crime/mystery genre.
- Currently 5.0/5 Stars.
A great movie, albeit with a confusing plot. The tension is kept alive by fantastic performances by Jack Nicholson and the hyper sensual Faye Dunaway, they don’t make women like this anymore. Roman Polanski’s direction is not as confident and polished as in later stages of his career but his signature handwriting and first and foremost his admiration for Hitchcock are more than evident in Chinatown. The locations, perspectives, chasing scenes, music and so forth are all nods to the master of suspense. The story is a tad to entangled for my taste and while it is interesting whenever it keeps in close touch with core human interests, love, family and sexuality it kind of looses its grip whenever the overload of business and political intrigue mumbo-jumbo takes over. While the core story aspects are all in place I would have arranged them differently, maybe move a few twists and climaxes forward to keep the viewer engaged. It is always good to see John Huston, although I found his performance towards the end utterly hazy and despite his character playing a key role as the axis of Dunaway’s character’s modus operandi, his character does not take part in the climax to his full potential and kind of oozes away into nothingness between the scramble that is the final scene.
The costumes, soundtrack, set design are all spot on, a given in Polanski films. All in all, a great film featuring a hell-raising last 15 minutes. The awkward and wooden script lets it down a bit.
- Currently 4.0/5 Stars.
Chinatown is undoubtedly one of the greatest movies ever made. It takes the concept of Film Noir to an entirely new level, certainly bringing more depth and mystery to the genre than it ever had before. It takes films like The Maltese Falcon, Out of the Past and Double Indemnity and makes an even more impressive plot with better visuals and performances. Roman Polanski clearly has a love for the genre because no other director could be as precise about filming the way he is in this project.
The plot of Chinatown is by far one of the most complex films to ever be unleashed upon American audiences. I can understand people when they say “I don’t get it”, but it wasn’t designed to confuse. It really isn’t a confusing film, it just demands more of your time than others. It has all the perfect ingredients of the Noir genre; Femme Fatales, Detectives, Double Crossing, Scandals, Money, Politics and Henchmen. With that, it leaves out a lot of the unnecessary clichés as well, something that everyone should appreciate. That’s why Chinatown doesn’t feel stale at all, in fact it still has a very unique quality about it. No other film has been able to match it’s glorious style.
The performances also set it to the next bracket of prestige. Jack Nicholson gives one of his greatest performances as Jake, the ultimate apathetic cop. He outshines any other actor who’s ever daunted a Fedora and trench coat with a cigarette in hand. He plays the part as if it was himself, there aren’t any obnoxious monologues or corny movement to damper his beautiful character. Faye Dunway is also in many ways the ultimate Femme Fatale. She has an incredible screen presence, which has you glued to the screen. She is also a very vulnerable character that gives you a very untrusting experience.
- Currently 5.0/5 Stars.
Chinatown in one of the few untouchable movies for me. My praises of this film are immeasurable. It just might be my pick for the best movie ever made. If not then it ranks comfortably beside the other untouchables like Blade Runner, The Apartment and Once Upon a Time in the West. Chinatown certainly shows that originality has nothing to do with throwing out all past genre conventions and starting over from scratch and has everything to do with point of view. In many ways Chinatown is a conventional detective movie and appears on the surface to be quite ordinary, at least up to a point, and yet it stands out among the other greats of the genre as perhaps the apex of the genre. In past great films like The Maltese Falcon or Out of the Past and even in the literature of Raymond Chandler and others that preceded the great detective films of the 1940’s, there was always a question about the history of the heroes, the “tarnished knights” as Chinatown wrtier Robert Towne refers to them as. It was usually hinted that something bad happened to make them as disconnected from the breed of people their occupation demanded that they mingle with. They had a glimpse of the darkest aspects of our world, the parts that many don’t ever see, and had to stand apart from it and above it, clinging onto a value system that consequently allowed for very few personal relationships. They were tragic loners because to allow someone to get close is to risk cracking the armor that is necessary to have in their line of work. Chinatown delves a bit deeper into the psychology of the detective so that when there is finally a dialogue, brief dialogue at that, about what Chinatown (the location in Los Angeles) means to Jake Gittes it brings him down from being simply a romantic hero to a tragic romantic. And it’s all set up for the shocking climax of the film. There are very few films that do tragedy well, or at least fairly, without forcing it, without simply being cynical, but because that is the way this story had to end. Chinatown is one of those films.
Chinatown was made in the 1970’s, that decade when when the traditional genres were being rethought, assaulted and in some cases trashed under the belief that they were too far removed from everyday life or that they were tired, worn out, or dead as a more modernist sensibilty started to creep into films. And Chinatown may have been seen as an updated, reassesment of the film noir genre, or neo-noir, but watching it today it is amazing how much respect it does have for the classic conventions. It’s not an ironic commentary on the genre, not spoofing it in any way. It is deadly serious and, as I said, respectful. I believe that that is why Chinatown lasts, why it holds up 35 years later when many of the films of that era bogged down in the issues of the time. Chinatown is timeless and great and shocking and surprisingly very moving. Yeah, I think this is the best film ever made!
- Currently 5.0/5 Stars.
My absolute favorite film. Though it draws on the dialog and plot themes of film noir of the 40s thru the 60s, it’s still the one film I’ve seen that can’t be topped for dialog – Robert Towne did an amazing job with the script, the dialog just flows & never loses it’s ability to get past you for a split second before you realize how great it is. A gushing opinion, on my part? You bet! But if you want an example, just listen to the scene where Gittes meets Evelyn Mulwray in the restaurant & drops the line about “the wind from a duck’s ass” & you’ll see what I mean.
- Currently 5.0/5 Stars.
Chinatown – Principled Perceptions of Pernicious Persons (originally written March 20th, 2009)
I have always been amazed at the impact our perceptions have on our
interpersonal relationships. Our biases and blemishes can create a smokescreen of sorts that blind even the most astute observer; this is how misunderstands abound and feuds begin. Film noir, a style best seen in black and white detective films of the 1940’s and 50’s, was perfectly used to examine and challenge our perceptions: could the gorgeous temptress really be a cold-blooded murderer? What has made this trenchcoated private eye such a cynical loner?
In 1974, Roman Polanski directed a film that hearkened back to the style and character types of the old film noirs, while dealing with subject matters that couldn’t be touched in the censored Hollywood of yore. This would be a film to deal with power, greed, and murder; the men who made LA and the men who search for the truth. The film was Chinatown, which can be found in the Grace Doherty Library DVD collection.
The hard-boiled detective is a staple of film noir, but this film offers Jack Nicholson is truly the greatest actor of his generation; watching his “J.J. Gittes,” it’s hard not to notice the emotions he experiences. A lesser actor would completely flub his personal transformation, making it appear either too concrete or too sappy; Nicholson, however, keeps Gittes entirely believable and grounded in reality. In one famous scene, Gittes is held at knifepoint; Nicholson is aptly able to channel his fear of a malfunctioning prop blade into the character’s terror. Nicholson is in every scene and all the film’s events are seen through his eye; his perceptions are our perceptions, his prejudices are our prejudices. This is the closest as an audience member can get to actually diving into the character’s skin.
Every film noir has to have a femme fatale, and Faye Dunaway’s “Evelyn Mulwray” at first glance seems to fit that bill; she initially appears on the screen with the sauntering menace of the “Black Widow” of lore. Imagine our surprise when later events force us to question our perceptions of her; we are never quite sure of Evelyn’s intentions or secrets until the film’s conclusion, but Dunaway gives this character a quiet desperation that slowly seeps through her cold exterior until she makes a drastic, devastating decision in the film’s final moments that becomes a total game-changer for the film.
Every actor, from a larger-than-life John Huston to a shifty Diane Ladd in a very small part, delivers bravura performances; even characters who appear in just two or three scenes make an indelible impact on the viewer, thanks in large part to the beautiful screenplay.
As an English major, when viewing films, I tend to notice dialogue rapidly; a great script can make a film on the most dismal subject pleasurable, while a terrible script can weigh an otherwise great film down. Chinatown’s script, on the whole, was extraordinary; not a single phrase, situation, or character seemed contrived or false; screenwriter Robert Towne richly deserved the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay he won for his work here.
Jerry Goldsmith’s rich, jazzy score melds beautifully with the time and place, and serves to heighten the emotion, but never really to lead you to a set emotion.
John Alonzo’s cinematography is beautifully saturated with a light golden hue, but never so much that it feels artificial or contrived, like the lighting on The Godfather films can sometimes appear to be.
No matter how you perceive it, this is a film for the ages; you can’t forget it…It’s Chinatown.
- Currently 5.0/5 Stars.
This film is absolutely, amazingly, holy shitingly wonderful. It has the classic Polanski pessimism, it holds no blows. Jack Nicholson is great in his role, and John Huston, the master that he is, plays an excellent bastard. While I saw this film on a very small screen (ipod), it is still great. As I say if thee plot is masterful and the acting is amazing, doesn’t matter how you see it, as long as you see it; but I got to say, Itunes rental service is a bitch.
Some may say thee plot is convoluted or confusing and loses you, but the plot is really a backdrop in this film. The main show are thee performances and thee feel. Polanski pulls off that Noir feel to a brilliant degree. Anyway enough of my Polanski love-fest, watch it.
- Currently 5.0/5 Stars.
This great neo-noir serves as a dark comment on the disillusionment of the common man in the face of modern injustices. Private Eye Jake Gittes is haunted by his past as a cop in Chinatown, a place where one could never be sure of allegiances or motives and where crimes could not be prevented or even investigated because the society itself was too alien. When he becomes involved in a massive crime involving the very pillars of Los Angeles, he is confronted by horrific corruption that he will not be able to ever bring to light. The final line, “Forget it, Jake, it’s Chinatown” serves to reinforce the idea that the common man is ill-equipped to battle the entrenched forces that control his world.
- Currently 5.0/5 Stars.
Robert Towne wrote the intricate screenplay, all crackle and wit and Roman Polanski burnt it into our collective cinematic synapses using Jack Nicholson as his partner in crime. This film came towards the end of a golden run for director and star, and in the middle of the post ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ American film renaissance that would last until the blockbuster/cineplex unholy alliance dumbed down what mainstream movies could accomplish. Jack’s permanent air of edgy disquiet plays perfectly here as Jake Gittes PI, in sync with the bitter heart of Chinatown’s philosophy, learned as a young cop, which seems to be ‘if you try to do the right thing, this being Chinatown, it will turn out badly, or upside down’.
Produced by accomplished self-promoter Robert Evans, part huckster, part cowboy and total egomaniac, no expense was spared to help create a period piece that oozes conviction, from the art deco titles to the beautiful Jerry Goldsmith score. Within the deeply political and the deeply personal Towne constructs a mystery, one that Jake seems to be the only person capable of, or interested in, connecting the dots on. Gittes runs a small Private Investigation business and makes a living mostly by photographing cheating husbands ‘in flagrante delicto’, to satisfy the divorce laws of the time. The case starts innocuously enough with a suspicious wife, Evelyn Mulwray, wanting proof that hubbie is a cad. Jake goes through the motions and sees the mark, Hollis Mulwray, spending quality time with a much younger woman. He follows him and also discovers he has an interest in some odd places related to the city’s water supply. Soon Hollis is dead, the real Evelyn Mulwray steps forward and Jake is stiching up a sliced nostril.
The beauty of this film is it works on many levels. It’s a smart updating of the 1940’s style noir gumshoe genre, complete with the wise cracking cynical operator, who’s either one step ahead of, or one step behind events. It’s the not knowing that keeps us all guessing. Towne uses the tenor of the early 1970’s, the questioning of old authorities and power structures to comment upon unregulated greed. Hollis Muwray dies because he felt ‘the people should own the water’. His old partner Noah Cross (John Huston), and he fell out over the matter and Cross represents a man who’ll stop at nothing, privately and publicly to satisfy his appetites. Jake begins to unravel the relationships between Cross, his ex partner and the mystery woman. Evelyn (Faye Dunaway) is the link for all the unconnected strands and ends up finding some degree of personal solace with Jake, who senses all the corrupt doings but can’t quite make the right conclusions.
In the end the Chinatown philosophy has it’s say. It is a corrupt and rotten world, sometimes brutally so, and beautiful things are not what they seem and people get hurt at the expense of unfettered greed. Roman Polanski weaves all the threads together to create an intricate and beguiling mystery that can still pack a punch, even in a post Jerry Springer world where every sordid personal revelation is grist for the entertainment mill, and restraint or dignity are unknown commodities. Nicholson personifies the decent enough guy who doesn’t know when to let sleeping dogs lie, a deceptively effortless performance matched by Dunaway’s intense and damaged Evelyn, holding tight to the idea that, if it’s too late for her, redemption can be a thing achieved via the next generation. Chinatown evokes a by gone era without sentiment, it’s a nostalgia free zone, existing in a place between reality and dreams, where the politics of living are played out in the eternal dance between truth and lies.
“You’ve got a nasty reputation, Mr. Gits.
I like that.”
Superbly crafted film. Every cut. Every frame. Every eerie scene counts. A classic Robert Towne screenplay. You can feel the rot and decadence. In the way John Huston talks. In the seen it-all face of a private dick who hasn’t seen anything yet. Evil is personal and political and pervasive. And (quietly now) what a lot of fun this movie is.
More Baddaboom Reviws:
(Sunday, May 17, 2009 4:12pm)
Another reason why Roman Polanski is one of the smartest film directors in the history of the cinema is because he does not only emphasize the story but the characters as well. Jack Nicholson at his prime. John Huston’s best supporting performance. And Faye Dunaway on top of her career. This movie changed the perspective of the film noir’s experience through dialogue. Great Movie 9/10.
- Currently 5.0/5 Stars.
I saw this film recently, after not seeing it in 10+ years, and have seen in 2-3 times since then and not only is the screenplay one of the greatest original screenplays ever written but I was shocked how good Jack Nicholson is. He’s best work was from this era… Last Detail, Cuckoo’s Nest, Five Easy Pieces.. but I feel that this is his best work.
This time I was less shocked by the ending but my attention was more towards the Jake Gittes character… a truly tragic story of an overly competent and sympathetic private eye destroying someone, who least need to be destroyed, by him just doing his job… it’s such a powerful tragedy. Nicholson’s look at the end of the movie just sums it up.
I also saw the sequel, the Two Jakes… which I thought was excellent, but lacked the skill of a Roman Polanski and a bad score… great screenplay as well but I found his sense of guilt in the second movie enhanced the viewing of the first. It’s a tragedy in itself that the 2nd movie did so poorly and was received so badly.
- Currently 5.0/5 Stars.
Somewhere between Raymond Chandler and Humprey Bogart, the detective figure became some sort of smart ass cynic who, at the end of every noir scandal or situation, would reveal he was the only one who had some control of the situation the whole time. Chinatown reverts that with a masterpiece of scriptwriting, sublime acting and one of the best directed films ever. Here, the cynical ass, Nicholoson´s Gitties, is up for a nasty, real nasty, shake up…
“Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.” With those words one of the greatest, most originial American movies of the 1970’s ends. Polanski’s exploration of noir provides for a fascinating journey into the water-depived LA of the 1930s. What starts off as a simple adultery case for Private Eye Jake Gittes spirals into an intricate expose of the corruption that led to LA losing its hydration. Nicholson moves through the film with cool, yet also acts like a simple man caught up in a case much bigger than himself. Look for John Huston’s Noah Cross, who is one of the most despicable villains to ever crawl onto the silver screen, and the shocking revelation of what Cross did.