Cert: 15 Runtime: 130 mins Director: Roman Polanski Starring: Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway and Josh Huston
You’re dumber than you think I think you are
Going through the archives I was looking at my blast from the past features, I realized that I really dont review enough films before 1980. So this week I listed some of my favorites, firstly Chinatown. I do love a good mystery/crime movie and especially if Jack Nicholoson is in it. It’s 1937 Los Angeles. Specializing in cases of cheating spouses, private investigator Jake ‘J.J.’ Gittes (Jack Nicholoson) is tailing Hollis Mulwray (Darrell Zwerling), whose wife suspects him of marital infidelity. Mulwray is the high profile chief engineer for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. Him being high profile is because of the chronic drought in the Los Angeles area and the importance of fresh water to the growing community. Most of what Gittes witnesses in following Mulwray are some usual and some not so usual business dealings, among the former being a public meeting for construction of a new dam to create an additional water supply for Los Angeles, the dam which Mulwray opposes. But Gittes eventually witnesses Mulwray meeting with a young unknown woman who is not his wife. Once news of the supposed tryst between Mulwray and this woman hits the media, additional information comes to light that makes Gittes believe that Mulwray is being framed for something and that he himself is being set-up. Gittes is assisted in his investigation of the issue behind Mulwray’s framing and his own set-up by Mulwray’s wife, Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway). Despite Evelyn’s help, Gittes also believes that she isn’t being totally forthright with him. The further he gets into the investigation, the more secrets he uncovers about the professional and personal dealings of the Mulwrays, which includes Mulwray’s former business partnership with Evelyn’s father, Noah Cross (John Huston). The identity of the unknown woman may be the key to uncovering the whole story.
Jack Nicholson breathes life into Jake Gittes in an Oscar-worthy tour de force, with amazingly sarcastic quips and commendable perseverance concerning the colossal gravity of the water and power business. Gittes is cool and collected, even when being held at knifepoint or gunpoint, and always a step ahead of his adversaries, both mentally and verbally. When things don’t add up, he isn’t afraid to dig deeper – he is employed by just about every rivaling party during the course of the film – but we get the idea he’d still sacrifice his wellbeing for answers, if only for personal satisfaction. He’s not afraid of bending the rules – “to tell you the truth, I lied a little” – and his cooperation with the law is oftentimes considerably fragile. Unique and unpredictable, Gittes is an antihero with such enthralling idiosyncrasies and clever character traits that the audience is unable to tear their attention away from his every move, from the very opening line of dialogue to the unforgettable last.John Alonzo’s cinematography is enchanting, and Polanski’s direction is mesmerizing. Immersing the viewer in the heart of the film, over-the-shoulder shots and silhouetted faces keep you in the very middle of the action and almost following behind Gittes as he moves from bloodied crime scene to lavish homes. Staying true to some of the ground rules for classic noir, he is involved in every scene, and his actions narrate the film even without a voice-over – we know only as much as he does. The characters are either antiheroes or villains and as the plot thickens, those lines are usually continually blurred as the intricate mysteries become less and less clear, giving way to a more astonishingly unexpected conclusion.
Instantly recognized for its perfect recreation of classic noir and its infamous nose-slicing scene, performed by Polanski himself, Chinatown demonstrates the chaos and avarice of deceitful men wielding too much power, as it serves up an allegory for water and dishonesty. Every side-story and reference to Chinatown in the film musters up memories of events gone awry, and so its culmination there flawlessly sums up the incalculable and tragic arcs of characters that are doomed by their involvement with the seedy side of politics. No one escapes unscathed from the thick layer of corruption in this last of the great illustrations of film noir.Chinatown keeps its lasting power through its dazzlingly sardonic dialogue, the development of monumentally unforgettable characters, volatile situations and the inimitable Jack Nicholson. Everything works smoothly – the ideal film noir design, the beautifully crafted original screenplay by Robert Towne, the haunting, deep piano riffs by Jerry Goldsmith, and the unequaled acting talents of Faye Dunaway, John Huston and of course Jack Nicholson. Voted onto AFI’s Top 100 Greatest American Films list in both 1998 and 2007, Chinatown is the epitome of film noir, and an overall outstanding piece of entertainment.