Retro Review: Chinatown (1974)

Chinatown (1974)
131 minutes
Rated – R
Directed by Roman Polanski
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Huston

Grade:  A

There is a lot to say about Chinatown and I’ll do my best to keep my rants focused. Chinatown is one of the best noir films in cinematic history, there is no doubt about that. What we have is a private investigator, Jake Gittes (played by the wonderful Jack Nicholson) who stumbles upon an affair, a murder, and a conspiracy. Hid demeanor and motivations are what drives this film into a classic.

It might be easy to feel like this is just any other noir-crime film, but Chinatown separates itself enough from all the others and sticks out as being executed by the talents of the filmmakers and actors involved. Because after all, this is Jake Gittes movie. He’s in every scene and he holds characteristics slightly different from other private investigators on screen. He actually cares.

That doesn’t cause him to do pro-bono work, because he still has to make an honest living. He gets into an argument with a man at the barber shop about the kind of work he does right after Gittes finishes his job. He was approached by Mrs. Mulwray to follow her husband because she suspects he’s having an affair. He gets the shot with Hollis Mulwray, the chief engineer of the LA Department of Water and Power, and it makes the front page news.

Job complete, time to move on to the next client, right? Not so fast. The real Mrs. Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway) approaches Gittes in his office to serve him a lawsuit. This is only the beginning to a mudslide of events to come that include the death of Hollis Mulwray, the powerful Noah Cross, Mulwray’s mistress, and secrets about the lack of water and Mrs. Mulwray’s past.

The plot is so thick in Chinatown that you must pay attention to stay afloat from its many twists and turns. But these are my favorite type of films, those that don’t dumb down the content in order to make sure the audience understands. This film expects you to follow every word and action and apply them to the mystery at hand. And we’re taken along the ride that Gittes is on, though our life isn’t at stake.

I don’t have to praise the work of Jack Nicholson, because it’s obvious he’s made quite a legendary career as an actor. There’s no doubt that his Jake Gittes is one of his best performances. He boasts his tough-guy exterior in the face of danger, but then shows his fragile and held-back expressions as he unveils the truth. This film surely paved the way to Nicholson’s career since it was his first leading role. Needless to say, Nicholson smacked this role out of the park.

Chinatown is remarkably powerful for a film that is supposed to suppress its emotions and show the hard-edged style of noir. The conclusion is tragic for Gittes and the people directly involved in the plot, but what else could you expect from a noir? In my opinion, it was a perfect ending to a beautiful story about morals and redemption.

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One Response to Retro Review: Chinatown (1974)

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    Retro Review: Chinatown (1974) | The Entertainment Blur

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