Director: Roman Polanski
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Huston
Plot: Jake Gittes (Nicholson) is hired by a mysterious woman to follow her husband. However, as events unfold, all is not as it seems.
Chinatown was made to become a pastiche of the classic Noir films of the thirties and forties, but it has stood the test of time, arguably becoming one of the most famous Noir thrillers in cinema. It is paced brilliantly, with a fantastic dark story. The mystery is a tricky one to work out, but that makes the pay-off at the end even more rewarding.
Polanski’s success comes from the fact that he knows exactly what he wants from the movie. He takes the best parts of the great Noir films and uses them in his script. He goes back to the books as well, trying to get a sense of voyeurism into his film. There is plenty of clever and interesting camera angles that film students will love to pick apart. It is nice to see a film that has had a lot of thought put into it.
Jack Nicholson is the perfect lead for this film. This could be one of his greatest performances, as the likeable hero. The character is well written: the total representation of a noir hero. He is a bit of a sleazebag, not the holy than thou kind of detectives we would get from a Sherlock Holmes movie. This makes him more relatable. One of my favourite scenes is when he is telling a dirty joke to his accomplices, unaware than his client is right behind him. It is a great moment of comedy and instantly made the character relatable for me.
The other lead of the film, Faye Dunaway, is also really good. Her character is a tough one to portray, technically the damsel in distress, yet at times she seems the person who is more in control. Her character is well written and by the end, you cannot help but pity what her character goes through. There are some great emotional moments from her character, essentially the victim of a corrupt and twisted world. Again, there is so much analysis I could go into for her character, but I will leave that to film students. There will be no cheating on my site, thank you very much.
Then of course there is John Huston, who very nearly steals the show. Although he is given minimal screen time, he is perfect as a villain. He seems monstrous, always appearing onto the screen in black, long clothes, like a mastermind bad guy. More like Dracula than a mortal. The actor gives a great performance and the scene where he and Nicholson meet is superb to watch. Again, I would have liked to have seen his character appear a bit more, but I get that Polanski wanted to focus the action on Nicholson.
My one problem with this film is that it is very dark. Polanski changed the ending to the original script, and although, it is shocking and very powerful, I was lost by the total despair. I would have liked a little bit of bright side to save me from the crippling misery that Polanski seems to want to hit his audience with. However, I cannot deny it is very thought-provoking and helps the film become the classic it deserves to be.
Final verdict: A great Neo-noir movie, maybe the best out there, with a fantastic script and lead actors.