Genre: Drama, Thriller
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Huston
Synopsis: A private detective is hired by a woman to perform surveillance on her husband who is later found dead, an event that draws the detective deeper into the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles during the California water wars.
Sometimes I find it hard to reconcile Roman Polanski’s talent as a director with the fact that he’s also really talented at escaping justice. I think a lot of people would agree that the man is something of a twat. However, if we go on the strength of Chinatown alone, it’s also safe to say that he’s a bit of a cinematic genius. Chinatown is pretty much as perfect as a film can possibly be; great acting, compelling plot, beautiful art direction and cinematography, incest. What more could anyone want from a film? My only regret is that the movie wasn’t directed by someone who is not a monumental douche bag.
It’s difficult to know where to start with this movie review because everything I say will be along the lines of: “it’s great.” Because I don’t want to get repetitive, I’ve decided that my time would be better spent outlining some of my 420 observations. Firstly, damn some of these characters be rich mother fuckers. I don’t mean like “comfortably rich,” I mean like rich to the point where they can probably use dollar bills as actual toilet paper and not have it mean anything. It makes me sad to think I’ll never get to experience that kind of opulence. I wish my ancestors had been smart enough to invent steel or something…then I’d have nice things. Also, Faye Dunaway has a very unusual cat face. People with cat-like faces usually creep the fuck out of me but it works in this movie for some reason. Plus, she nails that Old Hollywood/British accent thing. Finally, I wish my house was surrounded by orange groves. Basically, this movie rubbed my face in everything I want but can’t have.
I guess I should actually talk about a couple of the more brilliant aspects of the film because realizing how poor I am is making me sad. Let’s start with the acting: Faye Dunaway steals it! She nails every scene that she’s in. Jack Nicholson also puts in a terrific performance but, for me, it’s Dunaway who stands out in this movie. She initially brings this poise and control to her character, a façade that cracks and crumbles as the movie progresses and after Nicholson delves deeper into her sordid family history. Another thing I really loved was the cinematography. Virtually every scene has a depth to it, with eye-catching details in the foreground, middle-ground and background. Chinatown is a veritable feast for the eyes and the scenes which are set near the river and in the orange groves have a particular beauty to them; expansive and colourful, it almost felt as though I could reach into the screen.
Part of the reason I love this film so much is because it enlightened me about a period of Los Angeles’ history which I knew very little about. When I lived in Los Angeles, I didn’t really think much about where water came from. I knew I was living in city that straddled the desert but questions about water didn’t really enter my mind. Because of Chinatown, I became a little more aware about how cities are developed and how these cities secure essential resources. It would have been easier to put out a standard “LA Noire” film but the effort to tie in the movie’s plot with real life events was inspired: Chinatown’s historical accuracy and poignancy definitely wins it points. Education can be fun too kids!
- It’s all so pretty and stylized. Virtually everything looks great and it’s helped enormously by superb cinematography and art direction.
- Faye Dunaway’s performance. My favourite scene is where she has lunch with Jack Nicholson and he gets pissed off because she’s hiding stuff and as he drives off she cracks and shouts out his name but he doesn’t hear it. Aaaarrrgggghh!!! It was such a great scene!
- Damn the ending is bleak but it’s kind of perfect at the same time: “Forget it Jake, it’s Chinatown.” One of the best movie quotes ever.
- There aren’t very many downers but in one scene if you listen carefully you can hear a ghetto bird in the sky. “Ghetto bird” is LA speak for a police helicopter by the way.
Yes, the director’s a cunt of the biggest kind but you’re going to have to ignore that when you watch this movie. Chinatown is one of those movies that should only be cracked out on special occasions. It’s special…but not in a “Helen Keller” kind of way. To be honest, weed isn’t a necessity with a film like Chinatown but, if you do toke, it certainly makes the film’s artistic merits stand out even more and gives it a sumptuous feel which is frequently shattered with bat-shit crazy grit.