Chinatown (1974)

10 Overall Score
Story: 10/10
Acting: 10/10
Visuals: 10/10

Classic modern noire mystery/suspense thriller


Movie Info

Movie Name:  Chinatown

Studio:  Paramount Pictures

Genre(s):  Mystery/Suspense/Drama/Romance

Release Date(s):  June 20, 1974

MPAA Rating:  R


Thinking I need to buy me some property!

Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) is tricked into investigating a local official named Hollis Mulwray by a woman claiming to be his wife, and Jake vows to find the truth of who made a fool of him when the real Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway) threatens to sue.  Jake learns Mrs. Mulwray might be playing her own game when he is also contacted by her father Noah Cross (John Huston) who was also Hollis’ partner.  Jake finds himself drawn into a world of crime, politics, money, and family drama as he seeks out the truth.

Directed by Roman Polanski (who has a cameo in the famous “nose cutting” scene), Chinatown is one of the all-time great films in Hollywood history.  Loved by critics and a fan favorite, Chinatown was nominated for eleven Academy Awards:  Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Nicholson), Best Actress (Dunaway), Best Film Editing, Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Cinematography, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Musical Score (it only won one for Best Original Screenplay).  The reason for the loss was a result of its competition…The Godfather: Part II also was up that year and was some tight competition.


Worst nosejob ever, lady!

Chinatown’s story, acting, and visuals are incredible strong.  The story is a tight mystery but the screenwriter Robert Towne went beyond story by loading it with tons of themes and rather shocking moment that the main character of Jake Gittes can’t wrap his head around (which causes most of the problems).  Gittes is able to unwrap the whos and whats of the mystery but can’t get to the personal level.  It is Nicholson’s portray of Gittes that reminds me that he was something before he just became the Jack Nicholson character in all his movies.


She’s all I have left!

Chinatown becomes a theme which is just seedy (Jake has had this problem before after a stint as an officer in Chinatown).  The Crosses and the Mulwrays’ lives are so out of anything that Gittes can perceive that it leads to death.  After the famous “daughter/sister” scene, Jake suggests it was rape, and Mulwray reveals it wasn’t.  It is revelations like this that make the movie a step above most movies because it easily could have been a weepy story…instead Towne went another direction for his story and the result was a great and powerful movie.


Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown…

Chinatown’s script is also boosted by Polanski’s great directing.  Polanski really gives the movie an old-time LA feel plus shoots the movie in a way that has a great energetic feel.  Chinatown really feels like a “modern” noire film in how the characters look, the set designs, and just how it is shot.  It is a great example of why many feel the cinema “died” after the rise of the blockbusters…I don’t know that it is a true statement, but watching something like this or some of the other “greats” of the late ’60s and early ’70s does make me quite nostalgic (and then I have to pop in an independent feature to kind of get the feel).

Chinatown is a perfect movie.  It has mysteries, romance, drama, and great pacing for the whole film.  Unlike many films today, Chinatown has a dark, dark ending that Polanski says was partially because of the death of Sharon Tate.  Chinatown was followed in 1990 by an unfortunate sequel The Two Jakes which many found dull and predictable.  See the original and see a great feat in cinema.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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