Generally considered a landmark film, Chinatown evolved from its humble beginnings as a classic mystery to a film that made careers. Roman Polanski’s (The Pianist, Rosemary’s Baby) film reminds us of the seemingly lost art of the big screen crime-drama and how riveting it can be.
Los Angeles private eye Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson – The Witches of Eastwick, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) is hired by a beautiful socialite, Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway – Barfly, Bonnie and Clyde), to investigate her husband, Hollis (Darrell Zwerling – Wild At Heart, Joe Versus the Volcano), who she believes is cheating on her.
Gittes believes this to be a routine case and accepts it without hesitation. It soon changes from mere adultery to lies, corruption, scandal, and murder. He is able to photograph Hollis with a young woman, but finds out that the woman who hired him is not the real Mrs. Mulwray. The real Mrs. Mulwray shows up at Gittes office and orders him to drop the case or she will sue. Next Hollis is found dead and Gittes is up to his neck in a scheme that involves the city’s water supply.
The script, written by Robert Towne (Mission: Impossible II, Tequila Sunrise), deservedly won an Academy Award. He has written an incredibly dark and seedy (without being filthy) story that meanders along at a natural pace until its ending. It is an involved story but not too difficult to follow. Polanski has done a kind of tribute to the film noirs of the 1940s. It is amazing to me that he was able to concentrate on his work despite the scandals that swirled around him due to his personal life. Casting Jack Nicholson in the lead role was a stroke of genius as he is perfect for it. The way he smiles, talks and even walks is ideal for the role of the smart mouthed detective.
Chinatown is maybe the best picture of Roman Polanski’s illustrious career and one of the stronger American films of the 1970s. It has stood up to the test of time due to a great story and good acting. It is a film you can watch over and over again.
-Commentary by Screenwriter Robert Towne with David Fincher
-Water and Power: The Aqueduct – The Aftermath – The River and Beyond
-Chinatown: An Appreciation
-Chinatown: The Beginning and the End
-Chinatown: The Legacy