on October 24, 2007
Well,i never thought i'd say this,but,i have now seen 2 very good Roman
Polanski movies.(the other being the brilliant"The Ninth
Gate")anyway,Chinatown is a simple story of private eye Jake Gittes,who
stumbles into a murder mystery.Jack Nicholson plays Gittes,in a
brilliantly understated performance.Nicholson makes Gittes into a very
likable character.The film has a very unique and impressive visual
style.Polanski's direction is very tight and economical.everything fits
and each scene has relevance to the film.This is not an action
movie,but more of character study,and is also very dialogue driven.
What action there is,is low key and passive.this is no criticism of the
movie,at all.it is so well written that it cannot fail to hold your
interest,and as director,Polanski Tties everything up neatly.Faye
Dunaway also plays a prominent role in the movie,delivering a very good
performance.The only thing i didn't like was the ending.i don't mean to
say it was bad ending,i had just hoped it would have gone in a
different direction.the screenplay was written by Robert Towne, and
Polanski himself had a hand in the screenplay,but is not credited.The
screenplay is responsible for a great deal of the film's success,but
this is clearly a team effort.All in all,Chinatown is a well crafted
movie from all involved. 4.5/5
on April 19, 2015
I first saw this movie in the 1980s and remembered liking it then so decided recently to buy a copy on Blue-ray to see if it was as good as my memory told me. I was not disappointed. This is an excellent movie, a good story, tight screenplay, brilliant direction and great acting. The story is set in 1930s Los Angeles and is a mixture of fact and fiction. :It starts as a simple detective yarn about a Private Eye hired to investigate a philandering husband by a mysterious wife, but develops into a story of murder, greed and corruption in the acquisition of water rights for the growing city of Los Angeles. .Jack Nicholson as Private Eye J.J. Gittes is at his best before he adopted those annoying affectations later in his career, Faye Dunaway brilliantly depicts Evelyn Mulwray the mysterious and secretive wife of L:.A. City engineer Hollis Mulwray and John Huston gives a stellar performance as charming but creepy billionaire Noah Cross. Gittes' sleuthing gradually uncovers a dark and sinister side to the L.A. glitz leading to an ending that is surprising but somewhat appropriate. This is a movie that has to be watched more than once. It took me three viewings to appreciate the twists and turns and the complexities of the plot especially during the final stages when the pace really picks-up. Definitely a movie for my "Favorites Shelf" that I will watch again and again.
on January 20, 2008
I re-watched this movie today for the first time in years and I have to say that it never gets old. Along with Taxi Driver and On the Waterfront, this is one of the only truly flawless films I can think of. The moody cinematography, the crisp and alive script and the acting are all first rate. I love Polanski's direction, never too flashy but still stylized enough for him to make his mark. Its also very economical, there isn't even a shot that is wasted. The high point has to be the acting, John Huston as the creepy old father is as revolting as he should be. Faye Dunaway in probably her best performance ever, you feel a lot of sympathy for her throughout but you never completely trust her. Jack Nicholson steals the movie though, as the wise*ss, well dressed, private investigator Jake Gittes. This is typical Nicholson in a way but before he became an over the top charicature of himself. He's as obvious as he has to be in some scenes but enjoy the subtlety of his performance. The bedroom scene with Dunaway is killer.
So yeah, great acting, directing, and an ending that will stay engraved in your brain for years. Definitely a top five movie.
on June 6, 2004
The mid-1970s saw a spate of "government conspiracy" films, all with liberal themes that emanated from Watergate. None of them were about Kennedy stealing the 1960 election. Hmm.
"Chinatown" (1974) may be the best screenplay ever written. A historical look at 1930s Los Angeles, it actually condensed events from the 1900s with events that, uh, never happened but made for good drama. Written by L.A. native Robert Towne, directed by Roman Polanski, produced by Evans and starring Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunnaway and famed director John Huston, it told the story of how Los Angeles became a metropolis. In Towne's version, Huston "owns" the L.A. Department of Water & Power with a character based on actual L.A. City engineer William Mulholland. Mulholland had orchestrated the political deal which built the aqueduct that brought water from the Owens Valley into the L.A. Basin, allowing millions of Southern Californians to keep their lawns green to this day.
The Mulholland character is "sacrificed" at the altar of greed, embodied by Huston, who secretly buys the San Fernando Valley, knowing that once the water deal is set, it will be incorporated into the city, making him a gazillionaire. It is rather cynical, although nobody suggests the L.A. "city fathers" were boy scouts. The same old theme is that capitalism and American political power are corrupt. To make sure the audience is convinced the corruption is beyond redemption, Huston is in the end found out be an insatiable, incestual monster. He plays the role so well it brings up minds-eye imagery of his real daughter, Angelica. The film is utterly beyond any criticism, regardless of political colorization. For decades, film students and screenwriters have studied it. It spawned an artistic quest to lace the screen with symbols, metaphors, backstory, and twists.
"Chinatown" seems to be the apex of the American film period, the mid-1970s. The period from 1960 to 1979 is unparalleled, but the backstory of the people who created these classics is a telling tale of why the genre leans to the Left. In the 1960s, film schools became popular. Four schools emerged, and have held their place as the place to learn the craft. In Los Angeles there was the USC School of Cinema-Television. Their first big alumnus was "Star Wars" director George Lucas. UCLA combined their film school with their drama program, so as to bring actors, writers, directors and producers together. Coppola went to UCLA along with a future rock star named Jim Morrison, who would form The Doors with another UCLA film alumnus, keyboardist Ray Manzarek.
AUTHOR OF "BARRY BONDS: BASEBALL'S SUPERMAN"
on February 22, 2004
This is simply one of the finest films EVER made. It is MY personal favorite film of all time and was judged one of the top 25 best films of all time by the American Film Institute for very good reasons. First of all, the script is brilliant. This film was MADE to be owned, since on first viewing the spectator won't realize that EVERYTHING in the film, down to the pictures on the walls and seemingly off-handed remarks by the characters are PART of the story. In one line from the film, Noah Cross says ".... you may THINK you know what you are dealing with, Mr. Gittes, but believe me, you don't" and that statement could not be more "on target".... This movie gives the viewer clue after clue along the way.... but one should NEVER rewind or go back until the entire movie is viewed.... but absolutely play it a second time a week or so later... and suddenly you find the clues, the lies and the deception stands out in bold relief. I have seen Chinatown at least 25 times over the years... and it still fascinates me. Nicholson deserved the Oscar for this film. Dunaway was sultry and marvelous. John Huston was absolutely convincing as Noah Cross, the man with unlimited power and even Diane Ladd, in a minor role as "Ida Sessions"... a small time "working girl" was perfection. The DVD transfer is not perfect... I would say it is a 9 on a scale of 10, some fuzz here and there and some background noise in the quieter parts... but overall it looks clear, color corrected and clean. The soundtrack by Jerry Goldsmith, although composed in a week, is probably his best score. THIS FILM IS NOW 30 years old and we deserve a 2 disc boxed set with the COMPLETE score (the CD soundtrack only has about 35 minutes of SOME of the cues) and we deserve some still frames, some information about WHERE the scenes were filmed and so forth. ON the Criterion release on Laserdisc several years ago, you could see the entire film with ONLY the music score (L.A. Confidential has that feature on DVD)... this one would be terrific to watch that way. Overall... this film is a MUST have for any fan of film noir and cinematic perfection.
on October 16, 2003
With all the Oscar hoopla this past year around director Roman Polanski's sprawling, if flawed "The Pianist," one would think that it's the only Polanski movie out there. Well, if you've seen "The Pianist," you've seen a Holocaust movie like the rest of 'em. Take a trip back to Polanski's 1974 movie "Chinatown" and forget all you know.
Who knew a movie about a water conspiracy would be so nail-bitingly intriguing, and who'd a thought that screenwriter Robert Towne could take an old, dying genre (the "gumshoe" movie) and turn it into arguably the best screenplay this side of "Citizen Kane" and "All About Eve"? It's all here, with Jack Nicholson as smooth private eye Jake Gittes, and Faye Dunaway as the cryptic Evelyn Mulwray. Look closely, though. As "Chinatown" unfolds, it looks like it's going to be the typical detective movie, but twists and turns in the film's complicated narrative turn a simple San Fransisco water conspiracy into a twisted, perverse, nightmare that reeks of the Electra complex.
Yes, "The Maltese Falcon" has the style that set a trend, and "The Big Sleep" juggles plot strands like a sideshow freak, but "Chinatown" adds a tragic depth to its narrative that was never seen in such a movie and has never been seen since. Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway are no Nick and Nora Charles - there's a deep secret lying beneath it all that makes the movie a haunting and unforgettable experience. Dunaway hides the film's tragedy well, revealing it in an infamous scene that proves this is the finest work she's ever done. And Nicholson. Drawn slowly into a twisted web of corruption and deceit, he seems almost too smart for it, but Towne's script proves that there is a heart beneath his inquisitive glare, and it, along with all of ours, is broken in the film's devastating finale.
If you're into gumshoe flicks, this is the best one out there, but it also stands as one of the finest American films of all time. Just look at the film's ending - though "American," it carries a tragic, "European" touch that was no doubt a product of the painful history of Polanski. In a way, this movie relays the torture and pain of his Holocaust experience in a better fashion than "The Pianist." Even without digging into director's intentions, the final product of the movie is haunting, tragic, and won't get out of your head for days. One of the great lines of the film is "Forget it, Jake, it's Chinatown." Fortunately, forgetting "Chinatown" is something anyone that ever sees it will never be able to do.
on September 26, 2003
Sure its about incest and the rapacity of LA but without Polanski's eyewitness to the Holocaust and a country in the midst of political, social and moral crisis, there wouldn't be, "Chinatown."
The music for the opening credits couldn't be more perfect, capturing the big band sound of the thirties but hinting at a deep and painful weariness that goes to the heart of the film. This is a film of beautiful surfaces where evil suddenly appears and shocks like maggots swarming the pit of the perfect peach.
Jack Nicholson makes J.J. Gittes sleazy, angry and desperate whose quest for truth is both foolish and noble. Fay Dunaway displays a fragile strength and desperate pain as Evelyn Mulray that she doles out beautifully over the course of the film. John Huston uses his oily warmth to great creepy effect.
And then there is the screenplay; beautifully constructed, wonderfully original with dialog that is both memorable and natural. Is there a better original screenplay in Hollywood history?
Finally what is a mystery to me is how this film which is so sad and hopeless manages to feel so inspiring. Is it that in its richness like all great works of art is the stuff of life?
on September 11, 2003
This film, in its entirety, is only getting better with age. For those that have not seen it, that's alright. It's not the catchiest, flashiest cover art at first glance. But just like the film itself, the cover art demands closer inspection. A true classic can truly be determined by the test of time. When I first saw this film I thought it was good, it didn't move me that way it does now. Just after it ended, however, I found myself replaying the scenes in my head, over and over. I must have watched it again within a week or two. Soon after that I bought it, and it is now a film I cherish deeply.
Roman Polanski's cinematic translation of Robert Towne's script is beyond words. Every scene is pristine, but delicate. Every shot intentional for a colorized film noir feel, yet the stylization never feels intrusive.
Jack Nicholson. What can I saw about Jack? One of his best performances- up there with One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and About Schmidt.
I love this film, and so will you. If not, give it another chance down the road, I promise you won't be disappointed.
on July 19, 2003
Watching Chinatown again recently, it struck me that it is just about perfect. All the elements of film-making were performed here at an extraordinarily high level, and the result is one of the most satisfying movies ever made. Much imitated, rarely equalled, Chinatown is THE standard against which period mysteries must be measured.
Start with the wonderful script by Robert Towne that borrows from and re-imagines LA history without straying too far from the facts. A convoluted story of local political machinations is also the setting for a murder mystery set amid family secrets and betrayals. His plot, characters and dialogue entertain and intrigue us and the film's brilliant central metaphor, Chinatown, reveals, conceals and resonates long after the credits roll. Great stuff.
Next, people the story with a terrific cast led by a sauve and cynical Jack Nicholson as PI Jake Gittes, who despite his worldliness is in way-over-his-head without knowing it, Faye Dunaway as the fragile femme fatale, Evelyn Mulwray, and John Huston as one of the most memorable villains in moviedom as the rich & powerful, ruthless yet seemingly benign, Noah Cross. The supporting players are equally well-cast.
Then put this story and cast in the hands of a brilliant director with an equally gifted cinematographer, and turn them loose. Roman Polanski was an inspired choice to direct this film, not only because (as mentioned in the retrospective on the DVD) he brought a European sensiblity to this very American story of political & economic intrigue but also because as he had demonstrated in his earlier works (Knife in the Water, Repulsion, etc.) Polanski is adept at creating tension and dread on film. Chinatown's great success is in the atmosphere and tension and ominous feel of foreboding that overlays the film. We, like Jake, don't know where we are going or how these disparate threads of story tie together, but we sense it is dangerous to follow them and that something, unrevealed, is just beyond our grasp. Chinatown succeeds because its mystery is actually mysterious, its story complex, its secrets genuinely surprising.
Finally, art direction, costuming and period detail in Chinatown is beautiful and meticulous. And the music score is so good that it has been imitated many times in Chinatown wannabes.
There have been many attempts to emulate the quality of Chinatown, a few successfully (LA Confidential), many poorly (Mulholland Falls). Chinatown is about as good as Hollywood can do, meeting both the obligations of entertainment while uniting and presenting the various craftsmanship of film-making at such a high standard that it raises the result to the level of art.
This unique confluence of story and talent occurs rarely, but when it clicks, as it did so brilliantly in Chinatown, the result is the masterpiece we all recognized from its initial release. A timeless and indispensible film that would be diminished by any change or subtraction of any piece of its construct, this one should not be missed. A great film
The film's title refers to an area of Los Angeles where private investigator J.J. Gittes (Nicholson) once served as a police officer. It also suggests the difficulties of finding one's way in unfamiliar territory. Directed by Roman Polanski who received (in absentia) an Academy Award in 2003 for his direction of The Pianist, this film seems to have multiple layers of meaning and apparent meaning. Yes, it is well within the noir tradition but it also seems to reflect so much of the social discord during the decade prior to when it was released (1974) even as it examines Los Angeles during the 1930s, amidst the Great Depression but also a time when so many accumulated vast wealth through sometimes questionable business practices. (If I recall correctly, the number of millionaires in the United States quintupled during the decade following the collapse of the stock market in 1929.) By all accounts, Noah Cross (Huston) is an immensely wealthy and power force within the city's business community. For reasons which are revealed in the film, Gittes finds himself in an adversarial relationship with Cross and has little chance of prevailing against him. Now a private investigator, Gittes is retained by Evelyn Mulwray to follow her husband Hollis whose behavior has raised questions and caused her to be concerned. Gittes' involvement with her leads to his conflicts with Cross, for reasons which neither Gittes nor we understand until much later in the film. Polanksi briefly appears in the film (an Hitchcockian touch) as the Man with a Knife...and he uses it. Throughout much of the movie, neither Gittes nor we know what's happening. Individuals as well as circumstances are not what they appear to be. It's as if Gittes and we are being toyed with...a brilliant strategy on Polanski's part to sustain interest with precise pacing while creating tensions and even conflicts whose nature evades understanding. At one point Cross tells Gittes "You may think you know what you're dealing with, but believe me, you don't." He didn't and, at that point, neither did I.
Obviously, this film intrigues me, in part because it frustrates me as I must struggle (as does Gittes) to understand various relationships which may be real or imagined...both by me and by most of those involved. What's with Evelyn Mulwray? What information is she concealing? To what extent (if any) is her husband Hollis involved with Cross? What is her own relationship with Cross? Whom and what does Gittes threaten? Why? (For most of the film, he doesn't know.) I could go on and on about ambiguities. It is paradoxical that so many of its important scenes are bathed by dazzling Southern California sunshine in this prime example of a film noir.