User Reviews (536)

Add a Review

  • 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.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    The seventies were the last years of great (American) films. I say films because when we speak of movies nowadays, we allude to blockbusters that generate hundreds of millions of dollars, the least amount of controversy, and are mostly inane crowd pleasers with tacked-on endings.

    Consider the output of influential film makers Allen during that time: Coppola, Scorsese, Altman, Lumet, Ashby, Bogdanovich, to name a few Americans, not to mention European directors Fellini, Bergman, Wertmuller, Truffaut, Argento, Saura, and Bunuel -- all household names in those days. Before Spielberg and Lucas came along, not a single one of these made movies appealing to the "summer blockbuster tradition," and unlike Spielberg or Lucas, they have a body of work filled in high artistic quality with minimum special effects and a lasting mark on future generations.

    Polanski is another one of these directors, and with "Chinatown," he reaches his directorial peak amidst the scandals which seemed to taint everything except his art. One can only imagine him in the forties, living his scandals, and transmuting this into high art -- when film-noir was at its darkest. Thankfully he lived in a time which did not demand the "happy ending" or re-shoots in order to be politically correct -- else "Chinatown" would have lost its devastating punch and conformed to the norm.

    A departure from the horror genre which brought Polanski to stardom, he re-creates an equally grim genre with his jaded view of 1930s Los Angeles down to the choice of the color palette, and using the acting powers of Dunaway and Nicholson to a fantastic effect, he creates haunting characters who can't be easily dismissed as film-noir archetypes without looking very closely at their reactions, listening to their words, and following their progressive involvement in a plot which threatens to swallow them whole, and ultimately does. And having Huston play Noah Cross -- who virtually took noir to its heights with "The Maltese Falcon" -- Polanski hits the mark dead center, because Huston is the hardened heart of the corruption in "Chinatown." In brief scenes he creates a character almost unbearably evil with a hint of madness just underneath, and how he affects the characters around him will pervade the viewer long after the credits have rolled -- after all, he is the person who tells Nicholson he has no idea what he's getting himself into.

    I doubt this movie could be made today for reasons stated above. I'm thankful Polanski's vision prevailed, and not Towne's. Film-noir is a genre about human darkness, and here, the envelope is pushed all the way through, making this film, in my opinion, rank second to "The Maltese Falcon."
  • The first time I saw it. After one of my buddies claimed it was the greatest movie every made. I mean, what could live up to that hype. Then, over the course of 20+ years I discovered a much wider world of films beyond what CBC and CTV showed late at night to pay the bills. We rented every B&W movie the video store had on tape. TCM came along. I discovered film noir. I drove Interstate 5 through California in the midst of a terrible multi-year drought. I visited Los Angeles. I discovered Arts & Crafts homes. Then I watched this movie again tonight. And I realized my buddy may have been right. It has Jack Nicholson before he became a caricature of himself. John Huston showing he was as good an actor as he was a director. And Faye Dunaway, my goodness, was she on fire for a decade or what. When she's trying to explain things to Nicholson in the third act and she's breaking down while doing so, if that doesn't get you, you have no heart. But you know what else? If you know the ending, the movie is more riveting. Because then you understand why the characters are addressing the things they do, and you're watching the characters act and react, which is where the magic lies. This is a superlative film. I feel like a dope for taking 20 years to properly appreciate it. I only wish my friend were still alive so I could tell him he was right.
  • Jake Gittes is a former cop turned private detective. When he is contracted by a Mrs Mulwray to find out if her husband is having an affair, he takes to trailing Water Company Executive Hollis Mulwray. Mulwray appears to only have water and a dry riverbed on his mind but eventually they catch him with a young woman, although almost immediately the news gets leaked to the papers and Mulwray goes missing, only to turn up dead. At this point the real Mrs Mulwray comes to Gittes threatening to sue him for his involvement and Jake realises that he had been set up to set up the Mulwrays. He continues his investigation into the murder only to find a conspiracy involving thousands of gallons of water being wasted during a drought and the mysterious presence of Mrs Mulwray's father, Noah Cross.

    As a fan of film noir and tough detective movies, I am too often put off by modern entries into the genre that try to replace atmosphere and intelligence by just having nudity and swearing; the genre managed atmosphere without these in the forties and fifties but yet modern films seem to rely on them. With Chinatown however, everything works well as a homage to the best years of the genre and, as such, is very well set in the period and is of suitable presentation even if the material and tone is darker and harder than would have been allowed years ago. This is not to say it is just a copy and paste from better films because it isn't and indeed stands out as one of the best detective noirs I have seen in ages. The plot is always going to be the most important thing and it gets it spot on throughout, doing the proper thing of starting with a simple story and continually building it more and more complex as it goes. Unlike some other "classics" of the genre, Chinatown manages to do this without ever losing the audience and I found the plot to be both rewardingly complex but yet still very easy to follow.

    Needless to say, things are very dark and the script is convincingly dark and miserable, leading to an ending that is as depressing as I've seen – not so much in what actually happens but also in the wider implications for the characters that the credits prevent us from seeing. Director Polanski does a great job of putting this story in a lush setting that produces a real strong sense of period but also manages to always be showing us the darkness coming through subtly throughout the movie. Of course it helps that he also has a great cast to work with. Jack Nicholson is iconic in this role and, if I had to pick one film to act as an introduction to Nicholson then it would be this one. He is tough yet damaged, upright but seedy and he brings out his complex character well. Dunaway has less screen time but is just as impressive with a similarly dark role. Huston adds class and manages to ooze menace while also coming across as a harmless old man. The support cast are all fine but really the film belongs to these three, with Nicholson being the stand out role.

    Overall this is a very classy film that has stood up very well to become a well-deserved classic. The story is complex, mysterious yet simple to follow; it is dark and seedy without relying on swearing or nudity to set the atmosphere. The direction is great, with a real atmosphere and sense of time and place that is matched by a great collection of performances delivering a great script.
  • rmax30482330 January 2002
    There is a word, impossible to spell, that describes the alignment of solar bodies like the planets when they all fall into place together. A similar word would describe this film. Everything about it is right. Polanski never directed a better movie. The performers, down to the lowest atmosphere person, are superb. The editing, the score, the sound, the decor, the dialog, all are just about flawless. The photography is peerless. The white garden apartments, the terra cotta roof tiles, the palms and desert sand are all painted with a faint gold, faintly ripe with false promise, like the oranges that bounce from Gittes' desperately speeding car in the northwest Valley.

    Polanski deserves much of the credit. When Gittes surprises Evelyn Mulwray in her car, after he follows her to her daughter's house, her face slumps forward and beeps the horn briefly. Then, so faintly, we hear a few dogs bark in the background. Not only is the scene itself exquisitely done but it prefigures the ending, as does Gittes' remark earlier to Evelyn that she has a flaw in her iris. The movie is too good to deserve much dissecting. It stands repeated watching. If there is anything wrong with it, it is the serious and tragic ending that Polanski always insists on tacking on. Robert Towne was right and Polanski wrong in this case. Everything came together on this film. It's not only the best detective movie ever made; it's one of the best movies ever made -- period. A marvelous job by everyone concerned.

    I have to add (6/27/05) that the word I mentioned in the first sentence is spelled "syzygy." Man, did I get enlightening email on that. I might as well add two other impressive features of this movie. (1) Polanksi takes his time. Example: Gittes sneaks into Hollis Mulwray's office and begins to go through the drawers of his old-fashioned wooden desk. As he slides each drawer out, Polanksi gives us a shot of their humdrum contents (checkbooks, magnifying glass, and so forth) and we can almost smell the heat and the odor of shellac and sawdust emanating from the wooden containers. The contents reveal nothing of importance in this case. But (2) sometimes irrelevant information crops up that resonates later in the film with its own echo. The detail might be just a word ("applecore") or an ordinary object (a pair of spectacles found in a pond, immediately after Gittes imitates the Japanese gardener's remark that the water is bad for the "glass.") Some of the references may be so consistent as to constitute a theme (water). None of this hits you over the head with its significance. It's all very neatly stitched together.
  • Tweekums15 November 2018
    Set in late '30s Los Angeles this 1974 film opens with a woman, identifying herself as Evelyn Mulwray, asking private detective Jake Gettes to find out whether her husband, chief engineer of the LA Water and Power Company, is having an affair. He follows him and ultimately photographs him with another woman. Somehow these pictures end up in the papers and he is approached by another woman who it turns out is the real wife of Mulwray... and she intends to sue. He continues to investigate Mulwray and suspects some odd goings on at Water and Power... then Mulwray turns up dead; drowned during a severe drought. His continued investigation brings him closer to the real Evelyn as well as into real danger as he learns the truth about Water and Power's activities which could make some people very rich at the expense of other, poorer, people.

    This film may have been made about a quarter of a century after the classic era for film noir but it perfectly captures the feel of those films. It has morally ambiguous characters inhabiting a murky world that contrasts with the bright Los Angeles sunshine. The story has many twists and turns without feeling unnecessarily complex or confusing. The cast does a great job; especially Jack Nicholson who is in every scene so that the viewer doesn't know anything Gettes doesn't know. Faye Dunaway is solid as Evelyn Mulwray and John Huston is suitably menacing as her father; a man standing to make a lot of money with many dark secrets. Overall I'd definitely recommend this to anybody wanting a good mystery or fans of film noir.
  • 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.
  • If it wasn't for the fact that most of the cast would have been too young or not born yet, this movie could have been made in the 1930's or 1940's. It reminds one of the film noirs that Hollywood used to make during that time period. It is a superb example of film making, certainly among the 20 best movies I have ever seen.

    Jack Nicholson is private detective Jake Gitties, who can be as hard-boiled as Humphrey Bogart's Phil Marlowe. But Gitties is different: He is intelligent, dresses well and has associates whom work with him. Gitties is hired by Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway) to investigate into an extra-martial affair she believes her husband is having. However, the investigation leads into bigger things involving the water supply of Los Angeles, which is in the middle of a drought. A series of double-crosses, murders and plot twists all lead into a climatic showdown in Chinatown which has a surprising conclusion.

    If the saying `They don't make them like they used to' was ever more true, it was with this movie. Sex is only suggested between the Nicholson and Dunaway characters, yet it is convincing enough. And although Faye Dunaway is a beautiful woman, we never see frontal nudity of her (Directors today would do just the opposite). Some of the plot twists also would not be possibly made today, especially the ending (Which, if you haven't seen the movie, I cannot reveal).

    Nicholson is a tour de force in his role as Gitties, but the rest of the supporting cast (Including John Huston as Mulwray's deceptive father) is equally superb. As to how Nicholson could loose the Best Actor Oscar to Art Carney in Harry and Toto is beyond me. Faye Dunaway was also nominated for Best Actress, only to loose to Ellen Burstyn for Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore. Fortunately, Nicholson and Duanway have both won Oscars since. In addition, the film itself received nominations for Best Picture and Best Director for Roman Polanski (Who has a cameo in the movie as the knife-welding thug who cuts Nicholson's nose), but those Oscars would be lost to The Godfather, Part II. The only Oscar won was for Robert Towne's screenplay, which is today considered the model for film writing. After watching the movie, one will know why. From the stellar performances to the sharp direction to the superb screenplay, this is a cinema treasure.
  • 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.
  • diagonals803 October 2004
    Polanksi's 'Chinatown' stands as one of the classics of 1970s American cinema, the last classic period in American cinema. It's a great reminder of how utterly engaging cinema can be without the special effects, flimsy plots and outrageous stunts of many major studio productions now, not evening mentioning the obvious marketing tie-ins.

    The cinematography and screenplay could be considered almost economical in its minimalism as it is really the story, script and characters that drive this movie forward.

    Chinatown tells the story a detective, confidently played by Jack Nicholson, who gets embroiled in an investigation involving the mysterious murder (suicide?) of the head of the Water Board. During the investigation, he gets involved with Evelyn Mulwray, the wife of the murdered man who appears to want to get to the bottom of the mystery but during the course of the movie demonstrates that she is not telling the whole story and has something to hide.

    Everything in this movie works from already mentioned tight editing down to the costumes and sets.

    Nuff said!

  • Very, very difficult to find any faults in this landmark film. The script is captivating; the soundtrack haunting; the cinematography and photography perfectly captures the hazy atmosphere of LA, especially at dusk; and the production values are first class. "Chinatown" is well deserving of its status as a 20th century classic in film.

    Through its story of a civic department run by greedy officials, "Chinatown" captures moral decay in 1930's LA so well. This is the key theme of the film. There is romance, but its secondary to the plot.
  • A film about LA and water set in the l930's during a drought with a dark incestuous subplot and some stunning performances by Faye Dunaway and Jack Nicholson, and superb cinematography that seemed to capture the essence of LA. Directed by Roman Polanski, who makes a terrific cameo appearance as a switchblade wielding heavy, and using the considerable acting talents of John Huston as a ruthless and perverted landowner. Read Cadillac Desert to know about LA's water grab but see Chinatown for its brilliant allegory of water and corruption, both public and private. The direction, the screenplay, the acting, the photography, and the soundtrack combine to make a convincing and atmospheric picture. The crushing ending is just so much more icing on the cake.
  • From the first 10 minutes of the first time I saw this movie in the theatre, I've truly loved it, more any other movie I've ever seen. Why? Well, that easy, it's just so... PERFECT!

    Obviously there are many other great movies, and many other movies I personally also love, but Chinatown has a real spell over me. Other fans have commented here on the story and the spellbinding way that the forlorn and utterly mysterious story unfolds. I certainly agree.

    Chinatown's cinematography and editing? Yes, I agree again! IMO, it's breathtaking, with pacing so tight that I sit straight up thru the whole movie and my nerves become completely raw every time I watch, listen and FEEL it again.

    I don't think anybody has commented yet on the great choice of the many supporting actors. Each one so well cast and very believable in their roles! You've got the entire cast credits list (thank you IMDb) so I won't list them here but there are so many memorable performances here! It would be unfair to highlight one, two or three! Good cops, bad cops, ugly rich, up-and-coming, downtrodden poor, the very honest and very crooked with all shades in between! Each and every role a character study in and of itself and together they make a living "time capsule" of the forties that we can revisit for generations to come.

    And then there's that sound track which hooked me on great trumpet players and the Est Coast Jazz sound of the era. I just love that music and way it interweaves with the ongoing theme - it's perfectly united with the faithful and compelling use of the film-noir style.

    I saw this movie first in Chicago and heck, back then I knew nothing about LA, though I've since moved to and lived in the area for years. Once relocated, I quickly discovered the historically interesting side to the story and then appreciated the movie from yet another compelling angle. No question, the plot is fundamentally sound with many totally unexpected and yet quite plausible turns. But I later understood that it's within the realm of believability from factual standpoint, as well as intellectually/emotionally.

    Geez, I'll never forget that first confrontational scene at the Albacore Club! The study in absolute raw and evil power as masterly portrayed by John Huston. In the very same scene Jack Nicholson skillfully paints the subtleties of his cautious, cynical, small-time hustler character. The air crackles! I must have played this scene in my mind a thousand times. When I visited Catalina Island for the first time in about 1985, not knowing its significance to the movie, I walked by the Albacore Club (The Tuna Club in real life) and froze transfixed. I recognized it instantly of course, and I must have stood there gawking for 20 minutes not saying a word. I could literally HEAR the Chinatown theme - the memories were that clear and fresh!

    In closing, I guess then what does it about Chinatown for me (why I feel so strongly that it is the very best movie of all) is that every facet of the movie construction, from the opening scene to the ending credits, somehow fits together in a homogeneous, complete and absolutely flawless way.

    I find it fascinating to analyze the characters and their makeup. To imagine the reasons they did what they did. But there is NOTHING I would change. Nothing.
  • While I don't care too much for Roman Polanski's style of direction(maybe I'll grow to like it eventually, maybe not), I can't deny that this is a truly great film. Jack Nicholson really shines through in his role, and his acting in this film perfectly fits the character... his shark smile, his voice, his tone... all of it, perfect. I always thought, when watching films with Nicholson, that he'd make a great lead in a noir film, so when I found this film and discovered that it was indeed noir, I naturally saw it as soon as possible. I found the film to have a slightly slower pace than what I would have preferred or expected, but apart from that minor detail, it was flawless. The plot is great, and thoroughly interesting and involving. The pacing, while not fast all the time, is more than acceptable. There are sequences that are really intense and exciting. The acting is great... like I said earlier, Nicholson shines through and really takes this character and makes him his own. The characters are well-written and credible. The special effects are well-done and still hold up pretty well. The dialog is very well-written and memorable. There are quite a few quotable lines, as well. The cinematography is good, and even when the plot doesn't move a lot, Polanski keeps our interest through interesting angles and sequences. I liked that there was often something subtle going on in the background, while we're focusing on what's directly in front of us. While Polanski certainly doesn't possess the attention to detail that Kubrick does, he manages to put a good bit of detail into many of the shots, and there is fairly little left to coincidence or chance, much like Kubrick. The film has a few twists that are quite good, and they come as surprises... I don't think I really saw them coming, and I doubt anyone would be able to. Of course, some might not find the twists to be that impressive, but the story stands on it's own nicely as well. This is a great movie, which should be seen by just about anyone who can take it(it's more than just casually adult in nature, even though there's not that much violence or sex in it). I recommend this film to anyone who enjoys film noir, watching Jack Nicholson in perfect shape in a role that was tailor-made for him, a good mystery, Roman Polanski's direction and just a good movie with a more adult tone that many others. 10/10
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Chinatown - A

    What a depressing ending! But it's the ending that elevated the film's status to a masterpiece in my eyes. It started out like a simple detective story, but the plot kept turning, and it's anything but simple or conventional. Jack Nicholson gave one of the best performances of his career, and we kept finding out more and more about Faye Dunaway's character, eventually knowing, shockingly to me, why she was both fond and afraid of intimacy. No line in the script is wasted. The cinematography painted a great picture of L.A., reminding me of Collateral, and the music score is fantastic as well. It is a real thriller full of mystery, kept me guessing all the time, but also a real tragedy in a personal level. I feel bad Chinatown had to compete with Godfather II in the same year. It deserves more wins out of its 11 Academy nominations.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    "Chinatown" is so good, it's scary. Jack Nicholson is Jake Gittes, the iconic private eye hired to spy on the husband of a woman who suspects he is having an affair. What Jake soon uncovers is a vast conspiracy involving local tycoons and water - heading towards a great conclusion with a classic surprise ending.

    "Chinatown" might not be the best film noir ever made but it is certainly one of the best. Like "Indiana Jones" it is a loving homage to its source - in this case movies of the 1930s, 40s and 50s such as "The Maltese Falcon" (most obviously!) and lesser-known film noirs such as "D.O.A." (which no one else I've seen so far has mentioned in comparison to this, but it does have its similarities).

    Nicholson is absolutely superb in his role, playing Jake with all the touch panache of an instant classic anti-hero. This was certainly a movie of the 1970s, with its anti-hero being the guy we come to root for.

    Robert Towne is a genius and I may seem to be giving "Chinatown" loads of fanboy praise but I can honestly say that I'm not obsessed with it in any way, in fact I've only seen it a few times. But it's just a really, really great movie that's perfect in just about every way - direction, acting, screen writing, cinematography, editing, sound...the list is endless. Polanski deserves as much praise as Towne I suppose, because his direction is flawless and very noir-ish. (If that's a suitable description.)

    Overall, this is a classic - for good reason. After seeing this and "L.A. Confidential" within a few days I can say with confidence that "Chinatown" is much better, and will probably be more fondly remembered years from now.
  • Over the years, people have called Chinatown one of the best movies ever. I don't quite agree with that statement, but there is no denying that the movie is a masterpiece. I may not find it one of the best films all-time, but I do find it as one of the best films of 1974. This noir film hearkens back to the days where similar films were produced left and right. But starting from the 1960's, this genre slowly began to fade away. The film may come across as really taking its time to tell the story, but the thriller has lots of tension that builds up to its climatic ending. This film brought public awareness to some issues people may not have really known about. Water is a commodity for human survival and whoever controls the water, controls the money. This movie is a complex series of events surrounding the control of water and that people can die over this issue. Ah, the wonders of being a human being! The movie is a complicated follow, so don't lose yourself in any train of thought, or you might lose what will happen plot-wise. Boasting one of cinema's all-time greatest screenplays by Robert Towne and a powerful lead performance by Jack Nicholson, you are in for a fantastic time.

    As I mentioned briefly, the film's plot can be complex as the film will turn down a completely different path in a heartbeat. Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) is a private investigator who specializes in matrimonial affairs. One day, he gets a visit from a woman claiming to be Evelyn Mulwray. She tells Jake that her husband is cheating on her and she would like Jake to investigate her claims. He does his job by taking photographs of him and he catches him with another woman. That ensues a scandal and Gittes is confronted by the real Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway). When the husband shows up dead, Gittes is led deeper and deeper in a web of deceit, lies, and murder.

    This movie is given its voice by a variety of elements such as Robert Towne's fantastic screenplay or Roman Polanksi's visionary directing style. But let's not forget about the wonderful performances including the tour de force performance by screen legend, Jack Nicholson. Nicholson's performance is nothing short of excellent as he portrays Jake Gittes. I loved how the movie gave in-depth characterization to this character. Gittes may not be the nicest man in the world, but he's a man of honor and honesty. The movie is all about lies and that forms a rather bleak mental state for Gittes. All we wants to do is find the truth and move on, but that seems impossible to do with all the lies and murder. Nicholson was nominated for an Oscar for his performance, and some might say he should have won. Who can forget that scene at the river bed where he is slashed in the nose by this random creep. Faye Dunaway also delivers an amazing performance. On the outside her character makes you believe she is good, but she has some fishy motives about her. Gittes falls in love with her, but he can't take her sneaky lies. Then we have the performance of John Huston, the legendary director who plays Evelyn's father. His character, Noah Cross is the antagonist of the film one would say as he wants to use his wealth to control the water. That dinner scene between Noah and Jake is quite something. Noah and his mean, beady eyes are put to good use.

    This film was directed by Roman Polanski, before he was extradited to Europe and could only make films there. This movie has him returning back to the director's chair, only a few years after the brutal murder of his wife and unborn child. I loved his sense of direction and he really captured the noir feeling you would find in the films of the 1940's. His conflict with the screenwriter Robert Towne became somewhat famous. Towne had the film end with a happy ending, but Polanksi went against that. The ending is not a happy one as we get some unfortunate deaths from the wrong people, but it was an effective ending nonetheless. No matter what, Robert Towne written one of the best screenplays of all time and that will endure for many, many years into our future.

    Even though Chinatown is a fictional movie, it's based of the Los Angeles water grab of 1908. This is a city that formed in a desert and it should be impossible for water to exist, which makes the control of the water ever more so fundamental. Towne did a great job adding his own 1930's spin to the story. This movie is undeniably a great film. The pace crawls at times, but the content of the story kept me captivated. This is not an action thriller, but it's one of those slow-burn thrillers focused on telling a top-rate story. The film fires on all cylinders because of it's wonderful acting and solid direction. But we also have a great but sad, trumpet-infused score from Jerry Goldsmith and cinematography from John A. Alonzo that captures the L.A of old in a very effective way. Let's not forget about the award-winning screenplay from Robert Towne. Nominated for 11 Oscars, this film is worth a watch. This is a fantastic thriller that relies upon excellent storytelling.

    My Grade: A-
  • gleebs7510 March 2006
    Warning: Spoilers
    As is often the case with any Jack Nicholson film, Jack was the greatest part of this film. While it is said to be a crime thriller meant to keep audiences on their toes with its action and drama, which is not really the effect that Chinatown has on the audience. This film actually makes more of a statement on the social and political situations in the United States (in this case L.A). If audiences walk into this film expecting a mindless crime thriller, then they will be sorely disappointed.

    In a broad sense, this film is about America as a corrupt capitalist society. Jack Nicholson's character J.J Gitte seems to be one of the only characters in the film who sees the water drought in Los Angeles for what it really is—the controlling of a vital source of life for a civilization by the rich and powerful. The rich and powerful owners of capitalism are represented in the film by the character of Noah Cross and (most of) the members of the Water Department. These men are able to use money and power of influence to re-route the city's water to certain places in order to make themselves even more money. It's a classic case of the rich getting richer by stealing from the poor. J.J sees through this and as a private investigator used to dealing with cheating spouses, he gets himself in way over his head while investigating the death of Noah Cross' partner (and son-in-law), Hollis Mulwray. Hollis, it appears, was one of the good guys, one of the liberal men like J.J, wanting to do good. It was his decision to give the ownership of the city's water to the people instead of himself and the corrupt Noah Cross.

    The characteristics of Noah Cross and J.J Gitte are almost entirely opposite from one another. Also, the way that these two men treat women seems to be indicative of the way they treat others. Throughout the film, references to J.J's past working in Chinatown seem to be ever present. It comes to our attention that J.J left Chinatown when he tried to "save someone from getting hurt" but couldn't. It's to be assumed that he tried to help out a woman that he had feelings for, failed, and that she died. This is exactly what happens to Mrs. Evelyn Cross Mulwray. He falls in love with her (or at least lust), tries to help her, and it ends up turning out exactly as his past Chinatown experience. J.J tries to do good, but there are so many powerful situations beyond his control that he simply cannot. Noah Cross, on the other hand, controls everything. Throughout the film we come across many different people who's actions have been influenced by Cross. It then comes to our attention that Noah Cross raped Evelyn when she was 15 years old, that she got pregnant, and that the child—Katherine—is both Evelyn's sister and her daughter. It is no understatement to say that Noah Cross literally controls everything around him—including his daughter and what to do to her. He seems to embody the epitome of cruel, whereas J.J embodies the epitome of naïve goodness.

    Chinatown itself is another symbol present in the film. Chinatown appears to be the place where everything goes wrong for the good guy. There's no law in Chinatown, there's nothing to stop the rich and powerful from getting away with whatever they want. It is the end of goodness, as is represented by the murder of Evelyn Cross Mulwray by one of the cops. J.J's associate walks up to him as he is staring at Evelyn's dead body in the car and listening to Katherine's screams as she is taken away by her cruel grandfather/father. The situation is entirely hopeless, so all he can think to say to J.J is "Forget it Jake, it's Chinatown." It's a powerful last moment of the film, but it still offers no relief to the audience. We know that J.J won't be able to stop Cross' plans to steal a majority of the city's water to help himself profit during a drought, we know that Katherine will be raised by her "grandfather" and perhaps suffer the same fate with him that Evelyn did, and we know that there is no solving the fact that the nation (symbolized by Chinatown) will never stop being run by the corrupt because the good are powerless to stop it.
  • 'Chinatown' is one of the best films of the 70s and without doubt one of the most memorable in the crime/detective genre. This is a first-rate picture all round with very few faults, if any. It's an intelligent mystery, complex yet relatively easy to follow, and has no difficulty in holding your attention from start to finish.

    Part of what makes 'Chinatown' so memorable is just how perfect it is in appearance. The cinematography is on another level to anything else I've seen from the 70s - each and every scene is crafted in such a stylish and elegant way. The script is also brilliant and gives us some classic lines, including of course the famous last line of the film, 'Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown'.

    'Chinatown' is a classic that lives up to its glowing reputation. It's difficult to fault this detective gem.
  • tedg19 February 2003
    Warning: Spoilers
    Spoilers herein.

    Polanski is worth watching no matter what he does. Sometimes, the film is relatively free of context, like the nearly perfect `Ninth Gate.' But watching those take work because you have to cocreate the world.

    Sometimes the film is set in the context of a genre where the metanarrative is about how it sets within the genre. `Rosemary's Baby' was great because it played with everything that came before, adding great portions of architectural evil and fey vulnerability.

    Noir revolutionized film. The detective was our representative in the story, unravelling the order of the world. Noir turned that on its head, directly referencing what came before. The noir detective was still our avatar but was swept up in the world he was trying to understand. Everything happens TO him, not around him.

    Now Polanski does a Welles and Nicholson does a Brando. Both are techniques of self-commentary at the same time as commenting on the genre. Both are both IN the films and OF film, but until `Chinatown' they had never been attempted at the same time. This film changed the world. Huston was along for the ride.

    Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 4: Worth watching.
  • surajit-8421215 January 2020
    One of the best of not the best detective crime thriller movie I've ever seen. All hail to Jack Nicholson and Roman Polanski.
  • I am not always the kind of guy who has the time, or patience to sit down and watch what i consider to be an old movie. ( I am born in the year 2000). But when i stumbled upon this film at random on one of my local tv channels in Denmark i decided to give it a shot. "Wow" is the right expression i believe. The 130 minutes of runtime felt like 30 minutes, and never was i bored. Not even for a second. No matter your age or thoughts about old or noir type movies, go watch this. You wont regret it. The acting is amaxing, the dialogue is both fun and clever, and the message in this movie was important in the 70´ies, and it still is.
  • The year 1974 was very memorable. That year several films were successes which consisted of Francis Coppula's "The Godfather:Part II",Alan Pakula's political thriller "The Parallex View",Robert Aldrich's "The Longest Yard",and not to mention the disaster epics of the day;Irwin Allen's "The Towering Inferno",and Mark Robson's "Earthquake" not to mention the films "The Conversation",and "The Great Gatsby","Lenny",and "Blazing Saddles" to name a few. But one film in particular stood out from all the rest and it shows why that was one of AFI's 100 top films of all time.

    The year was 1974. The motion picture is "Chinatown". This was the movie that cemented Jack Nicholson as a bonafide superstar throughout the entire decade of the 1970's. This was the movie that started it all.

    Jack Nicholson graduated from star to superstar playing a gumshoe in this marvelously intricate film noir of the 70's directed by Roman Polanski,who has a memorable cameo as a sadistic hood,gives Nicholson the most famous nose job in motion picture history. Robert Towne's Oscar winning script(whom they used in some acting and writing classes as a learning tool in some colleges)brilliantly depicts 1940's Los Angeles as a glittering cesspool of murder,incest,and corrupt land deals. Faye Dunaway steals the picture with a haunting performance as the film's alluring female fatale,and John Huston,as her creepy millionaire father,will make your skin crawl. The stunning finale still packs an emotional wallop. "Chinatown" was the apex of what the cinema of the 1970's was about to become,and this was the prime factor of that as well.

    The film was nominated for 11 Oscars including Best Picture and won three for Best Original Score(Jerry Goldsmith),Best Screenplay(Robert Towne),and Best Supporting Actor(John Huston).
  • By now it's only redundant to heap more praise on this film. The writing, acting, cinematography, direction, editing, etc. seamlessly come together as if predestined. And yes, I think Polanski's decision to go with a downbeat ending was the correct choice - that final scene is unforgettable.

    What I'd like to focus on is Faye Dunaway's remarkable contribution to the film. She reportedly did not get along with Polanski, in fact, was labeled "difficult" on several of her movies. Yet she turned in an incomparable, complex performance. Starting with her look. Hitchcock placed great emphasis on each character's outward appearance, which told us just about all we needed to know. Here Dunaway takes a page from his book and immerses herself in the trappings of a wealthy woman of the 1930s. Compare the way she looked in "Bonnie and Clyde," also set in the 1930s. The eyes and hair are straight out of 1967.

    Keep in mind that she was 33 when she made 'Chinatown." That's a knowing performance from someone so young. Her cool demeanor when we first meet her turns out to be misleading. She embodies the classic femme fatale until just toward the end, in her famous "She's my sister. She's my daughter" scene, when we suddenly understand she's the only character with an ounce of integrity. There's been quite a lot going on beneath the surface.

    Next time you watch this film, pay close attention to Dunaway. You won't find a better female performance anywhere.
  • Lonestar5511 January 2020
    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!

    Chinatown is THE standard against which period mysteries must be measured. Start with the wonderful script by Robert Towne. 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.

    Next, people the story with a terrific cast led by Jack Nicholson, 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.

    Brilliant director with an equally gifted cinematographer, Roman Polanski was an inspired choice to direct this film. 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. Chinatown succeeds because its mystery is actually mysterious, its story complex, its secrets genuinely surprising.

    Chinatown is beautiful and meticulous. And the music score is so good that it has been imitated MANY times in Chinatown wannabes. Chinatown is about as good as Hollywood can do, meeting both entertainment and craftsmanship of filmmaking at such a high standard that it raises the result to the level of art.

    Chinatown is a brilliantly unique story and a masterpiece we all have recognized from its initial release. A timeless film that should not be missed. A GREAT film!
An error has occured. Please try again.