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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
A must see noir
There's a certain elegance that grabs you immediately with this movie. The cinematography is incredible but not showy. It follows the action but never chases it. I was endlessly struck with thought that they just don't make movies like this.

After finally viewing this film it's not difficult to see the many movies that borrow from it. I immediately thought of Brick and so aspects of the Nice Guys.

That aside, it's just a detective tale that is simple on the surface but once he starts scratching, it's ugly underneath. The 2 leads are excellent and seeing Jack Nicholson in his younger days I was reminded how hammy his performances have become. Faye Dunaway was perfect as well and I could easily forget she was in the Bye Bye Man last year.

Not really much else to say other than if you haven't seen this movie, watch it asap. It has aged wonderfully, looks fantastic on Blu-ray and quite frankly one of if not the best Polanski movie.
2017-07-31
"You know what happens to nosy fellows?"
Roman Polanski's landmark, marvelously complex, classic film noir masterpiece, which is a fascinating mystery which is set in 1930s Los Angeles. Private detective J.J. Gittes, played to perfection by Jack Nicholson in bravura performance which earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor, gets hired by a mysterious femme fatale named Evelyn Mulwray, played beautifully by Faye Dunaway in a brilliant Oscar nominated performance of great subtlety, to investigate her husband Hollis, the chief engineer of the water department of an extra-marital affair. Gittes is swept into a web of double dealings, deceits, political scandals and murder, all leading to an unforgettable and powerful climatic in 'Chinatown.' Masterful direction by Polanski, with a captivating and intelligent Oscar winning original screenplay by Robert Towne, stunning cinematography by John A, Alonzo, and an evocative, dynamic score by the late great Jerry Goldsmith. This tour-de-force benefits greatly from the superlative supporting performances by Perry Lopez, John Hillerman, Diane Ladd, Darrell Zwerling, Burt Young, Bruce Glover, and James Hong. Special kudos must go to the late great director and character actor John Huston for his magnificent portrayal of the perverted and monstrously evil landowner Noah Cross. Roman Polanski makes a memorable cameo appearance as a short, sadistic switchblade wielding thug who savagely cuts Nicholson's nose. "Chinatown" stands as one of the true great classic films of 'the 70s. A cinematic treasure that was nominated for 11 Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director: Roman Polanski. Highly recommended.
2017-02-10
a classic film noir from the '70s
The moment you see those opening credits in monochrome brown-sepia, you know you are in for a treat. This is a film by someone steeped in the tradition of the best film noir, and though not a style one associates with Polanski, his sense of drama and of pacing, and his painstaking care to make every shot add to the overall atmosphere, is perfectly suited. Though lacking the distinctive low viewpoints, close-ups and heavy shadows of traditional film noir, this is one of the few later films which manage perfectly to capture the atmosphere and the understated tension of the genre.

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.
2010-11-21
A very good 70's picture that would have been exceptional had it not been for an underwhelming ending.
(Originally reviewed: 29/03/2017) Jack Nicholson is one of the finest, most brilliant actors of all time, and yet again gives another great performance in Roman Polanski's absorbing, very good thriller. The picture has a lot of unique storytelling, you can tell it's the 70's because like many impressive films from that era, the photography and the style are apparent, and in as best way as possible, with a rather delightful background score too, which here is perfectly timed, adding some more energy to already strong sequences. The story is a thriller of sorts, just when you think you know something, another surprise comes in, right around the corner, and this can be a good thing, along as its efficiently done and plausible, and Polanski's film is original, entertaining and most definitely plausible.

Nicholson play's the P.I Mr Gittes, which is what he is mostly referred to as, throughout the picture, and what was supposed to be a simple spying expedition for a new case turned into a murder investigation with deceit, corruption and surprise. During the first half, the wife of the deceased played by Faye Dunaway (Evelyn Mulwray) hires Nicholson's character to further inquire about what happened to her husband, he must also find the woman who was having the alleged affair with her husband, and during this must get to the bottom of why Hollis Mulwray was murdered, who was responsible, what led to it and so forth, as this is a film that is best left as a surprise, I won't dwell too much on the plot, because the less you already know about the story, the more surprising it shall be. I can tell you that Polanski's screenplay probably has more surprises than most modern thriller that are released these days, which is another reason it stands out as a one of a kind film.

The direction from Polanski is very good, and the cast acquit themselves very well, with strong performances all round, but especially Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway and Perry Lopez who really stand out there, Lopez play's a lieutenant who used to work with Mr Gittes and he doesn't trust him, so tries to get as much info as possible to learn the truth, and he gives the third best performance in the film, after Nicholson and Dunaway of course, who have the most screen time, and dwell in the best scenes in the picture, making them scenes as memorable as possible. Robert Towne's script is great all the way through, up until just before the end, which I'll get to in a moment and I thought the dialogue was good, the romance between Nicholson and Dunaway's character is believable and contained and that the pace was superbly adequate, I was consistently enthralled in what was going on, always a must in any real impressive thriller. However, the ending is depressing, I wanted a more satisfying ending with some form of joy, but what the picture decides to send off with is no fun at all, you sit there knowing, there was no satisfaction in that last scene, it should have cut a few minutes earlier and it would have been one of the greatest films of all time; something that I consider a real shame, but up till that it's very good. Overall Chinatown is a film well worth seeing, it's well shot, thrilling and features one of Nicholson's greatest performances.
2017-05-09
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
Overrated Mystery
I had heard so much about this movie from word of mouth that it was one of the best films ever created and possibly the best film noir ever. I had extremely high expectations for this movie, and when it was over I considered it a piece of trash.

The story is about city curruption and making money by taking over the water for the growing city of Los Angeles in 1930. It doesn't even sound interesting. Jack Nicholson is great as his role and it's fun to watch him in any movie, but that didn't make up for the screenplay. The biggest shocker in the movie was that Faye Dunaway's daughter was her sister as well, and her father, the man who was racketeering the water was the father. I could absoluetely care less, the child could have been anyone's and still had a zero effect. Nicholson is repedeatly chased by his old partner who secretly wants to arrest him because he thinks he murdered Faye Dunaway's wife, who was a city worker in charge of water, although Nicholson had absoluetely no motive, because he didn't know Dunaway before he took the case. The ending is horrible as well, it doesn't really matter.

If you want to see a good movie made in 1974 see Godfather Part II, it made Chinatown look like a pile of sh*t. Very overrated movie, doesn't deserve to be anywhere near it's place (#19) on AFI's top films of all time.
2002-11-02
One of the best for both Polanski and Nicholson.
"Chinatown" is an absolutely intoxicating mystery set in 30s Los Angeles where private detective Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) is hired to keep an eye on a water and power executive and finds much more going on than he'd anticipated. Faye Dunaway is his femme fatale, aloof socialite Evelyn Mulwray, in screenwriter Robert Townes' delicious ode to the crime fiction of authors like Hammett and Chandler. Many details add to the enjoyment of this intricately plotted story; what's so great about it is that we discover things along with Jake and aren't able to figure out where it's going next. The story also has a very grim quality to it, one that's actually cyclical in nature as it's suggested that events and actions in the story are a repeat of past occurrences that had previously resulted in tragedy. Then again, people may not expect just how grim this gets in the end. Additionally, it features some revelations that are particularly twisted and which the viewer is not likely to forget. There's one character who will especially make ones' skin crawl. Many riveting scenes and confrontations play out while everything gets lovingly and beautifully lit and photographed; period recreation is also strong. Director Roman Polanski guides all of it with a sure hand, getting superb performances out of his well chosen cast. A large amount of familiar faces appear - Perry Lopez, Dick Bakalyan, Joe Mantell, Bruce Glover, Diane Ladd, John Hillerman, James Hong, Beulah Quo, Roy Roberts, Noble Willingham, Rance Howard, Jesse Vint, Burt Young, and Lee de Broux, but standing out and delivering a very grandiose performance is the always welcome John Huston. Polanskis' cameo as the hood who slashes Jakes' nose is also a treat. By the end, the separate threads are tied together and Jake realizes that all of his best efforts don't amount to that much; he's unable to prevent the worst from happening. Still, this film offers a compulsively watchable journey on the way to its destination, remaining believable and interesting all the way. Even as it gets very serious, it doesn't miss opportunities for humour, and it entertains solidly for two hours and 11 minutes, rating as one of the most potent examples of the "neo noir" genre. 10 out of 10.
2012-11-02
Perhaps the Greatest Film of All Time
Chinatown, 1974

I wish I was better at writing these movie reviews, because I honestly cannot say enough about this movie. I grew up watching old gangster movies, especially The Godfather trilogy, so in my heart nothing can ever "beat" them (part one and two) but if there was a film right behind them, it's this. This movie is so amazing in so many ways. The story is awesome. Every scene gets deeper and deeper in to the core of this eerie plot, and there's never a dull moment. Polanski does an incredible job with this movie. The 1940s LA setting is so perfect for this film and the jazzy noir-ish soundtrack is incredible. Another amazing aspect of this movie is the colors. The pastel-ish colors add to the tone and mood and style of this amazing film. And my favorite aspect of it is that its called Chinatown yet we only see Los Angeles' Chinatown for the final few minutes of the movie. I just loved that aspect of it and instantly fell in love with this movie. Not to mention Jack's performance. Incredible. I give it a 77 out of 10.
2012-12-19
Chinatown
In this movie Jack Nicholson is in his prime of acting and does a fantastic job playing the dirty detective. Faye Dunaway and Nicholson seemed to have a good and natural relationship on screen. Nicholson does an absolute fantastic job about balancing between being extremely serious and quite funny. Despite this movie being a mystery, drama, and film noir movie, I found myself laughing at many points throughout the film. I noticed that Polanski, the director, uses widescreen to film in this movie and it really works to enrapture everything for him. I was not a big fan of the ending like I know many other people were not. It did not seem like fate or destiny to me like it was supposed to. Just through the flawless acting of Jack Nicholson, it is unforgettable and I would recommend this movie to anyone.
2015-12-17
This Is What Happens When You Find Out Who Runs Los Angeles
You have to get a little depressed when people with so much money are dreadfully unhappy!! "Chinatown" is a movie which ends up being an indelible display of how egocentric megalomania supersedes all other emotions! Such abominable behavior reflects a myriad of despicable qualities of many individuals which pertain to the abhorrent aspects of human nature. The director of this film, Roman Polanski, has had a tenuously depraved life. (Including his tragic marriage to Sharon Tate). This movie is considered to be Polanski's best film ever! "Chinatown" is based on a true story, one which inflicted a lot of suffering for the city of Los Angeles, and, the vast majority of it's citizens sometime back in the 1930's!! The intensity of agitation in this film is astounding!! Jack Nicholson's performance in this film is remarkable!! Faye Dunaway's performance as Evelyn Mulray is considered by some prominent movie critics, to be the 36th best acting performance in the history of movie making!! This does not surprise me, I felt that Faye Dunaway's performance in "Network" was the best acting performance I have ever seen!! The movie, "Chinatown" is about people who are unscrupulous and miserable!! Often times, character portrayals about people who are victims of their environment are usually depicted with the indigent or the oppressed, in the movie "Chinatown", the environmental victims were the wealthy and the powerful!! Hatefulness, callousness, not to mention the blatant disregard for hard working individuals, as well as their overall well being, all became second nature reactions with the hegemony of Los Angeles. (i.e. Noah Cross and a handful of pork barrel politicians). "Chinatown" emanates a subtle tolerance for lethal chicanery by making conspiracy, cover ups, and collusion complete and utter masterpieces of understatement. This film evokes a repugnant display of human intuition by merely divulging some simple, yet, clinically ruthless facts!! Accommodating plausibility translated to dollar signs with everyone in the film. Vindictiveness with all of these plutocratic and nefarious scoundrels in "Chinatown" ultimately relegated them to the precarious plight of having to reap what they've sown. Their recriminations became a proverbial case of too little too late. What wound up being the single most appropriate adjective for describing this film, was the cogently riveting one of POWERFUL!! At the end of this film all negative behavioral ugliness patterns propagated a disconcerting state of resonating despair. The directing in this movie is unbelievable. The acting is sensational. The cinematography and melodic genre in "Chinatown" is unprecedented, basically second to none!! Most critics rate "Chinatown" as one of the top twenty American films ever made, I agree!! One of Hollywood's best efforts to ever hit the silver screen!! Especially on account of itemizing the aggregate character assassinations of every main character in the film!!The movie "Chinatown" is AN ABSOLUTELY MARVELOUS CLASSIC OF ALL TIME!!
2008-11-08
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