Friday, February 5, 2010
The most important thing that I can say about this movie: I was thinking about the events, how and why they happened, as if I was the lead character. Chinatown pulls you in and makes you feel like a part of the story. Writer Robert Towne, who won an Academy Award for his script, does a superb job of involving the viewer. Throughout the movie I was wondering what each clue might mean, what would be the next step and how could everything be linked. To me, that is the sign of a fantastic script. Towne has done terrific scripts like 'The Parallax View' (see my blog), 'Bonnie and Clyde' and 'Tequila Sunrise', but this is his best work. The script would make Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett proud.
Chinatown tells the story of Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson). He is a private detective in 1930's Los Angeles. He is hired by a wife to investigate the activities of her husband. She is suspicious of infidelity. He finds what he believes to be proof of the cheating. But he has been used and lied to and everything blows up in his face. This is insulting to our lead detective and he is off on a chase for "the truth". The search for evidence leads him to the halls of power within LA. He becomes involved with what he believes to be a vast conspiracy. But, as we all know, when you mess with those in power they mess back. Things don't always work out for Jake. But, in true film noir tradition, nothing will stop our lead from pursuing the facts. No matter where they lead and no matter the consequences.
The most famous scene is when Jake gets his nose sliced. The man with the knife is played by director Roman Polanski. This is the first film Polanski made in the U.S. after the terrible tragedy of Sharon Tate. Producer Robert Evans wanted a European to direct this film. He wanted the look and feel to be that of someone who did not grow up in America. Polanski did a fantastic job and received an Oscar nomination. The film is gritty and very intriguing. I especially liked the few moments of introspection that Polanski allows detective Jake Gittes. Those small pauses give us, the viewers, the chance to contemplate events while the lead does as well. It is an excellent touch. Sometimes directors are in such a hurry for the next "exciting effect" that they don't give us time to enjoy what is going on. Thankfully Polanski does not fall into that trap.
This film is a slight twist on classic film noir. It is set in the 30's, but has some modern twists to traditional noir. It is more in the modern style and provided the springboard for the resurgence of noir. This movie provided much of the basis for films like 'L.A. Confidential', 'Memento' and 'The Grifters'. Faye Dunaway, portraying Evelyn Mulwray, is a fantastic Femme Fatale. She entices Nicholson into moving over to the "dark side". The viewers can never be sure when she is honest and manipulative or dishonest and manipulative. But like all noir femmes she is manipulative. Both Dunaway and Nicholson received well-deserved Oscar nominations for their work. I believe that this is the film that established Jack Nicholson as a leading man. He had been a character actor, but his fine work here propelled him to super stardom.
Chinatown has an unexpected ending and shockers of details along the way. It is intelligent, well-acted, directed and written and is most entertaining. Be sure to netflix, download, rent or buy this great movie!
Filmed in 1974, directed by Roman Polanski, written by Robert Towne, starring Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Huston and John Hillerman. For further ruminations upon film noir see my blog about 'Double Indemnity'.