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Crime, Drama, Thriller, Mystery
IMDB rating:
Roman Polanski
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
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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Not for me, but if you're into 70s and noir, you'll really like it
Chinatown is supposedly one of the best films of all time and of the 70s. Maybe it is, but it's not for me. You really need to have a taste for 70s filmmaking and noir to appreciate this in its' fullest. I grew up in the 80s and 90s and always had a tough time praising movies of the 70s.

The movie has plenty of good qualities such as the style, acting, intricate story lines, surprises, dialogue, and mystery. It's a good film, but I couldn't see all the universal praise it gets unless it's from people who grew up in the 60s or 70s.

I fell asleep on consecutive nights while trying to get through it and finally finished it on the third try. While it is interesting and very intriguing, it didn't necessarily "grip" me the way that a mystery/crime drama/thriller would be expected to. The most gripped I was during the whole movie came on my third try to finish it when Nicholson basically domestically abuses Mrs. Mulwray and she reveals something very disturbing. Shocks like this are always riveting, but I was more disturbed than impressed with the reveal. Maybe this was gratifyingly controversial and provocative for 1974? It didn't really work for me.

While the film has classic qualities, without a doubt, by the end, for all the light it had shown at times for me, it sort of dimmed down a few points and I'll settle for a solid 7/10. It's a classic crime drama story and film that I highly recommend for that genre's list of originals, but outside of the hype, which by now appears to be bandwagon, I don't see how it's considered one of the best movies of all time. Good, but not great. 7/10
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.
Jake Gittes, Right Up There With Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe
In Chinatown, Jack Nicholson gets one of his best roles, definitely in the top five as Jake Gittes, a throwback private eye to the forties of Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe. Had Chinatown been made in the Forties Humphrey Bogart who played definitive versions of Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe would definitely have been cast in the role of Jake Gittes. Nicholson however is one worthy successor to Bogey.

Very little action takes place in Chinatown in Los Angeles and only some peripheral characters are oriental. What Chinatown is here is a metaphor for a place you don't want to go and a culture and way of life you cannot penetrate or understand. Back when Gittes was a cop he was stationed in Chinatown and always felt alien there. He couldn't do his job because he didn't understand the people.

Gittes goes back to Chinatown so to speak when he's hired by Diane Ladd to shadow her husband. It's the kind of peep job Nicholson is used to and he does. Later the husband turns up dead and it turns out Ladd was posing as the wife. The real wife Faye Dunaway shows up and threatens to sue him.

Nicholson keeps on digging and he comes up with a juicy political scandal involving a scheme to defraud essentially the whole city of Los Angeles with their water supply. But he comes up with far more than that involving Faye Dunaway's personal life.

The lead villain here is John Huston in probably his greatest role before the camera with only The Cardinal as a rival. Huston is Dunaway's father, a rich gazillionaire who can just about buy everything and everybody and usually does. But as it turns out he's far more malevolent than that, a truly terrifying evil soul.

Faye Dunaway does a great job playing a woman carrying one huge burden on her soul. Look for good performances by Perry Lopez as the dogged police lieutenant trying to keep everyone happy and Diane Ladd as the hapless fake Dunaway.

Chinatown is one timeless film and will be getting raves centuries from now.
One of the best film noir/homage films ever made!
"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.
finest ever screenplay to emerge from Hollywood
Robert Townes scripts probably the finest ever screenplay to emerge from Hollywood, once again reaffirming America's choke hold on the summit of film. An unforgettable narrative achievement that gives us something different every time we have the pleasure of sitting down and re-watch Roman Polanski's (Rosemary's Baby) seminal noir pastiche to the 30's made popular by the like of the Maltese Falcon, but still in its own rights; Polanski architects a detective film masterpiece. It was even placed 3rd greatest screenplay of all time, by the Writers Guild of America (WGA) amongst such titles as Casablanca, The Godfather and Anne Hall, which arguably I feel is the greatest of them all. Starring Jack Nicholson in what I believe to be a career defining performance, even surpassing his Oscar winning exploits with One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest and even his ever chilling performance in The Shining. Chinatown starts off as just another mundane detective TV drama, as a distraught wife; appear in Jake Gittes office requesting a private eye to solidify her suspicions of her husband's infidelity.

But just like in life, nothing is ever what it seems, and just like life, Chinatown is as unpredictable as the English weather, as from that moment in the office, we suddenly swept up in a whirlwind of excitement, tensions, laughs and shocks; as we find ourselves in a ever engulfing circle, consisting of millionaire corruption, murder, sheep, farmers. But when you thought that was it we sprinkled in some incest and water scandals for good measure. As we are placed side by side with Jake on his roller coaster ride through kicks to the head, cuts to the nose and a steamy love affair with a woman Fane Dunaway also from Bonnie and Clyde) who may just be the key to his eventual downfall, helping in laying down the foundation to one of the most ironic ends in film history.

They said Michelangelo had a hard time painting the sixteenth carpel in a lifetime; imagine trying to keep a piece of art like Chinatown in a review of 500 words or less, now that is a miracle. Because Chinatown is a magnificent cinematic and technical achievement that may never again be rivalled in American cinema. The film is so good, I feel that it should be compulsive watching in all film schools for all young writers and directors with dreams of a career in the film – actually better yet forget film school, just sit at home and watch Chinatown, that's the only film education you really need. So don't be a feel, stay out of school and watch Chinatown.
A Bit Confusing But Always Fascinating
No sense going into a detailed review describing what this film is about because there are enough reviews already. I'll just say it took me several viewings to finally figure out what was going on. It's not an easy to story to follow. It's also unusual: a crime story dealing with rights to water. To many people, that's odd but water has always been a precious commodity in southern California.

There is nothing confusing about how this film looks. It's a treat for one's eyes, especially if you love that 1940s look, which I do. This movie just drips with Los Angeles film noir atmosphere: a rich-looking piece of cinema with great period detail.

What stands out in most people's memory of this film is another odd thing: a man's nose getting sliced. Here, it's Jack Nicholson getting a "nose job" courtesy of some thugs. Jack, playing "Jake Gittes," will forever be known (among wild roles) as the guy with a bandage on his nose, thanks to this movie. As interesting as he is, along with Faye Dunaway and the rest of the cast, I always get a kick out of seeing John Huston in here. I love the way he sounds and acts, and I'm sorry he had such a short role.

Overall, an always-fascinating film no matter how many times you watch it or how well you understand it.
He nose you know!
Chinatown is directed by Roman Polanski and written by Robert Towne. It stars Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Huston, Perry Lopez and John Hillerman. Music is by Jerry Goldsmith and cinematography by John A. Alonzo.

Private investigator J.J. Gittes (Nicholson) is working on an adultery case but quickly finds himself embroiled in murder and corruption.

The gathering of Polanski, Towne, Nicholson and Robert Evans (producer) put their respective skills together to craft one of the most lauded neo-noir films of all time. It's a searing picture awash with the staples of the film noir and gumshoe detective movies that graced cinema in the 40s and 50s. From the characterisations (suspicious femmes - mouthy coppers - sleazy kingpin - tough protagonist in a whirlpool of unravelling layers), to the hard boiled script, violence, sex and brutal revelations, it's a noir essential that only lacks chiaroscuro and expressionistic swirls to seal the complete deal.

Allegoraries unbound, iconography assured and dialogue now in the lexicon of legends, Chinatown is not to be missed, not just by fans of noir, but fans of cinema, period. 9.5/10
Quite good, but over-rated seems like......
Well, having bought the DVD of this lately, I finally sat myself down and watched Chinatown w/out any commercials. Thank you AMC. Anyways-just what exactly was this 'JaaaaCK' movie/throw-back to the '40's noir flix all about? Why is it praised to the high heavens? Got me.

Here's what's good: *Jack Nicholson. Reins in his scenery chewing and gives a terrific, focused performance ala Bogie or Mitchum. I liked this a lot.

*Stylish camera-work, period detail, etc. Polanski nails it.

*Supporting work by Lopez, Huston, Dunaway and Burt Young, all fine. Huston is clearly a scary SOB no doubting it.

*Involving plot, and Towne was right--water rights and reservoirs aren't quite the same as Maltese Falcons--they're believable and mean huge $$ to those who can corner the market.

*Downbeat ending. Yah sometimes the baddies win.

What's not so good: *Quite slow. This has that '70's d-r-a-g things o-u-t pace, you do wish they'd hurry parts of it along some.

*Polanski and his knife cameo. Like bad Joe Pesci. C'mon guys.

*Hated seeing Faye get shot.

*Dull sorta film overall. You sit and wait for something to happen, and besides a few fights or near drownings, nothing much does for long periods of time save for Jack being...Jaaaaack.

Overall--***1/2 outta ****, Godfather Too was better, but the Conversation, that was the best for '74.
a very complex and interesting movie
this movie will definitely draw you in real quick, and it definitely kept me interested throughout. its about a private detective that gets into a case pretty deep, there's a water shortage in LA and he wants to figure out why, but he find that everyone involved is a bit more powerful. the story is certainly a work of art, it's very complex and unpredictable, and that's really what i liked about it. Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway were really great together, i couldn't of a better pair for this movie. i thought the directing was pretty darn good too. i think there could have been some slightly more flashy camera work, but the lighting was really good throughout. conclusion: it's a very good movie, just be prepared for some unexpected stuff.
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.
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