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.
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