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Year:
1974
Country:
USA
Genre:
Crime, Drama, Thriller, Mystery
IMDB rating:
8.3
Director:
Roman Polanski

 

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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
Chinatown 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
This movie got it all: perfectly paced study of human darkness
I knew CHINATOWN was hailed as the paragon of a film noir, and that's why I finally got down to watching it. However, despite having known about the movie for quite a while, I wasn't really prepared for just how dark it could be. The movie starts slowly, with a private detective taking on what looks like a routine case. But soon he finds himself enmeshed in a web of conspiracy, murder, lies and deceit. The plot is like a perfect machine that relentlessly moves towards a final resolution that is truly epic and truly soul-wrenching.

In a recent New York Times piece, they called CHINATOWN "a meditation on evil", which is spot-on. Set in 1937, this movie is just all-round perfect, first and foremost how everything is connected within the grand structure of the movie, that is rich in themes (water, evil, trust, guilt, greed) and even richer in suspense, as the audience—just like our protagonist—tries to find out what is happening. The story is "complex" for sure, but it's not "complicated". Everything makes sense in the end and the complexity pays off big time.

Besides the impeccable screenplay, everything else about this movie is perfect as well. Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway carry the movie with sophistication and dignity. Dunaway's stunning performance in particular fills every scene with an aura of mystery as you are trying to find out what her motives are. The set pieces are beautiful, the score is compelling; and camera-work and editing could not be any better. There is a reason this one is called a classic! So, if you're ready to delve deep into a richly layered exploration of the dark side of humanity—enjoy the ride. But don't expect to come back unscathed.
2017-08-26
Director Roman Polanski blows the whistle on America . . .
. . . in his masterwork movie, CHINATOWN. All of our brave soldiers have died so that government of the rich people, by the rich people, and for the rich people shall not perish, Polanski proves here. As the film's richest character, Noah Cross says, rich people can even surprise themselves when they notice how evil they have become. After knocking up his own daughter in her mid-teens, he's hell-bent in having the local police aid and abet him in his craving to gain carnal knowledge of his daughter\granddaughter, Katherine. When his business partner, Hollis, objects, Noah drowns Hollis in Hollis' own fish pond. Noah has the police cover this up for him, of course.

Noah, as you might have noticed, can do ANYTHING he wants, with the full support of the local police. This is because he is the richest Angelino, and he's about to become at least twice as rich, thanks to his scheme to triple the land area of Los Angeles through his manipulation of the water supply. Though everything that Noah does is unconstitutional, the U.S. Constitution and the Holy Bible get far less of his respect than toilet paper. Polanski also aims to prove that American police are the dumbest segment of the world population. Most of the cops in CHINATOWN are eager to commit any outrage imaginable for fewer pay crumbs off the rich man's table than even the butler is paid. These crime enablers derive their main payment vicariously, because they are bullies at heart and would work as henchmen for Noah and his ilk at no pay at all. They glory in making everyone else grovel at Noah's feet, forced to worship his accumulated mountain of gold.

The self-anointed "good cops" in CHINATOWN's world are the most stupid of all. Private Eye Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson)'s "back story" is that he tried to be a "good cop" in L.A.'s Chinatown, but got his lover killed. He thinks he can quit the LAPD and outwit the rich. Instead, he gets a new lover killed in Chinatown, and condemns another 15-year-old girl to the hell of incest at the hands of her billionaire grandfather. This TRUE STORY of the origins of Los Angeles, and the moral character of her founding father, raised a few hackles. Noah Cross' heirs ordered President Nixon to have Polanski's family butchered by C.I.A. operatives. They also trumped up bogus charges directly taken from CHINATOWN's Oscar-winning script to prevent Polanski from ever setting foot in America again, effectively silencing this lone voice crying out a warning from our wasteland. Everything is this review is TRUE--you can see most of it documented just by watching CHINATOWN. (If it were NOT true, there would not have been such a conflagration launched against the Polanski family!) Anyone who is brave and has a good heart will understand. As for the rest of you, Nicholson sums it up the best: "YOU JUST CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH!!"
2013-11-26
Reputation outlived the replay...
So this film is not recommended? Not so fast! When noir is mixed with other genres, it is the noir that music be in the forefront, for my entertainment value. If not we have a murder mystery detective film with a dash of old school homage. The story here is both predictable as it is suspenseful and without the big screen presence of jack Nicholson may have not been anything more of a Roman Polanski diversion. The Los Angeles story is a great one to build around, but the "you don't know who you're messing around with" angle has been further exonerated from ingratiating gangster or back story horror plots decades ago and was left with a lack of follow through here. John Huston' villain carried as much weight as Marlon Brandro did in his later years. Big name, hot hair. Faye Dunaway is lost in this role after owning her strong role in Bonnie and Clyde and Network. Possibly my expectations outlived the replay.
2017-08-05
The film that made Polanski a legend
As beautiful as classic film noirs, Chinatown creates a fine atmosphere that makes the audience think about what is happening.

With an ensemble of award-winning actors like Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway in the lead roles and an Academy Award for Best Writing, you already know it's a great movie. It also features brilliant filmmaking by Roman Polanski, a marvelous director.

But most of the parts I focus on one thing that i never criticized before in a movie.. their clothing. It's just looks so detailed and rich, you really felt like you were in the 1940's.

All-in-all the movie does well in it's genre, never fails to impress me and probably the audience itself. Good job Polanski, you had made a landmark for cinematography in this movie's genres, kudos to you!
2014-09-26
A Cynical But Beautiful Story
I absolutely loved this film although I found the ending completely heartbreaking. I also found there to be an electricity in the sex scene in the film that few movies from any era can produce. I felt that this film was a beautifully made and well acted commentary on themes such as the corrupt nature of authority figures, the oppressive nature of dark secrets, and the physical and emotional frailty of those who try to stand up to corruption against powerful authority figures. I also found the many references to the "water wars" to be fairly poignant giving that I am currently living in California in the midst of a drought. I get the sense that this film is one I will appreciate in even more striking ways the next time that I watch it.
2014-12-06
The need to discover is the discovered
Overall, Chinatown can be summed up as a story that expresses the balance of personality versus the impossibility of finding something. The ability to find something is the pain, because the discovery is never possible, but the balance to this is the challenge of discovery being the manifestation of personality.

Deep within reality, a story is being told about evolution and its obstacle in the form of difference. However, the obstacle of difference isn't the real obstacle, but is an illusion; the real obstacle is the need to find this story within reality.

The source of the story is the enemy of the story, but is also the story of discovery that makes discovery possible. The story is conflict, and therefore the conflict is detached from the need to discover. Because of this, the need to discover is beauty, but the act of discovery then has to become a beautiful conflict. Somewhere inside the universe or outside the universe a discovery is waiting to happen that will manifest as beautiful to its observer but not to the discovered: in actual fact, it's probable that the discovery itself will be the ultimate act of observation.

But what would that look like? Is it even possible to consider an ultimate version of observation a valuable discovery? If acts of observation are real, this suggests that an ultimate version having value is a discrepancy.

It's not unfulfilling, that Chinatown is about the idea of sequence, but the nature of the story makes it unfulfilling to point out the theme of sequence. It just seems that this is the eternal consequence of observation; to be an observer has to mean being alienated and being left in the dark. It's fair to say that Chinatown doesn't make the best use of the idea of observation being a hollow reality being a saviour of reality, and it's also fair to say that this apparent failure is a subdued failure, and not just because of the story having an intrinsic way of being quiet.

Truth be told: I couldn't give a crap about most of what's been said in this review, and am not sorry to have used the ideas that's been used to write the review. The only really important idea, that should be echoed, is that of the idea that within reality is a story or a truth that is the enemy of Chinatown but is simultaneously meant to be known as not the enemy of Chinatown, making Chinatown a beautiful discovery in which the hostility it exudes is in fact the ultimate master of the universe
2017-08-27
As coolly intense and exceptionally-staged as any detective story/film-noir of the 40's & 50's
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.
2003-12-17
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
Polanski's brilliance strikes again
Roman Polanski's Chinatown is definitely one of the best crime thrillers when it comes to both its fantastic structure and complex character study. It's his fascinating take on the corruption, greed and violence that lead people to become inhumane and brutal towards one another. It's like this real, and metaphorical 'Chinatown' in every bigger town in the USA – a place where everything happens on its own rules. Or even better, there aren't actually any rules, just the law of the jungle, one might say. Of course the rule applies as much to a single district, as to a whole city, or even country.

J. J. Gittes has to cope with one of the hardest cases that he had ever encountered. Normally, it all comes down to a few pictures of a cheating spouse (that's his business all right) to end a chapter. But this time it's something much bigger and more dangerous. He embarks on a path, which heads toward the discovery of a scheme that concerns the whole city of Los Angeles and its huge water supply. What's more, in all this crazy, dizzying mess Gittes meets a very fascinating and troubled woman, with a difficult mystery attached to herself.

After spending time with her Gittes is able to realize how pathological her family really is. And pathology is a right word in this context, as the amount of incest and other closely related themes is enormous.

The uncontested brilliance that Polanski has shown in Chinatown is contained in its complicated storyline and great use of symbolism, connected to every thing water-y. Almost everywhere you can sense the impact put on various connotations regarding water, not only in dialogues but also in the aspect of sensual experiences. For example, tapping water in the sink plays great with the overwhelming silence in the scene, where J. J. discovers a dead body on the floor.

I really admire Jack Nicholson for his marvelous work in every picture that he stars in, but his role in Chinatown is for me the definition of his career. The way he plays Gittes just makes you want more of his on-screen time (even though he is the main character). He sometimes shows a very serious side of his nature, but he can also come up with a fine amount of great jokes and insults. He is sacrificing his own life to terminate a case, which he wasn't even supposed to be involved in. Nicholson shows a bunch of acting skills that make his act very believable and entertaining. Faye Dunaway gives a decent performance as this classy, but very disturbed woman trying to help herself cope with the peculiar problems of her strange family. Note: Don't miss the very funny cameo by Polanski, who plays this scary, tiny man with a knife. Many laughs assured!

Polanski also makes a great use of the plot device known as a MacGuffin. The murder, which occurs in the beginning of the film isn't actually the thing that drives the plot later on. Even though Gittes is trying to find the killer, the picture is more about an insight into the characters and their profiles to provide a definitive explanation of this gruesome story.

All in all, I highly recommend Chinatown as one the best avant-garde crime movies ever directed and one of the finest, freshest takes on the pristine noir genre. Great directing, thrilling storyline and many detailed puzzles hidden in it account for a most memorable experience.
2012-05-25
Gittes gits it done.
Truly deserving of its title as one of the greatest films of all time, Chinatown delivers in spades. Everything about the film shines, and it looks better now than it probably did in 1974; of course, there's a lot of junk in the theaters these days. Acting, cinematography, script, atmosphere, it's all 10s baby. The story of a struggling P.I. getting a case that has more twists and turns than a mountain road is still one of the most crafted storylines ever concocted. Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Huston, John Hillerman, and everyone else deliver superb performances. Robert Towne's script, John A. Alonzo's camerawork, and Polanski's direction all make this a classic. You can't be a movie buff if you haven't seen this one.

2001-11-11
See Also
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