Release year: 1974
Director: Roman Polanski
Writer: Robert Towne
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Huston, Perry Lopez, John Hillerman, Darrell Zwerling, Diane Ladd
Ratings: 1 Oscar: Best Original Screenplay. 10 Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor (Jack Nicholson), Best Actress (Faye Dunaway), Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, Best Costume, Best Sound, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score. 4 Golden Globes: Best Drama, Best Director, Best Actor/Drama (Jack Nicholson), Best Screenplay. 3 Golden Globe nominations: Best Actress/Drama (Faye Dunaway), Best Supporting Actor (John Huston).
Moviegeek Sunday Classic #66, week 37 2015
Private detective Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) is hired to expose a cheating husband but instead finds himself caught up in a web of deceit, corruption, and murder. Unable to keep his mouth shut, Gittes constantly finds himself in trouble while it becomes more and more unclear who he can trust, who killed whom or even who hired him.
Rosemary’s Baby (1968) may be Polanski’s best known work but it is easy to argue that Chinatown is his masterpiece. With a slowburning story building up to a tense ending, flawless performances from a stellar cast, a brilliant soundtrack, and beautifully shot, it is difficult to find a single false note in the Polish director’s film noir. Allegedly inspired by the California Water Wars, Chinatown wraps its story around the water that so often appears in Polanski’s movies; but it doesn’t really matter what the crime is, the main focus of the movie is cleverly held on the characters, mainly the main character Gittes. His sharp tongue delivers fierce words that stand in strong contrast to his calm and collected attitude, leaving an impression of a man that has seen and survived enough to know how to play the game. Nicholson (The Shining, 1980) understandably recieved an Oscar nomination for his incredible performance and it is hard to imagine that the movie would be half as good with a different lead. He is supported by Dunaway (Bonnie and Clyde, 1967) who, like her male co-star, delivers one of the best performances of her career as the woman who either catches Gittes in her web or is caught with him. In the capeable hands of Polanski we are left guessing until an unpredictable end leaves you feeling emotionally raw. The score perfectly shifts between mellow and moody background music to tense tones demanding your attention and manipulating your emotion in the right direction without ever losing sense of its own style. From the brilliant camera work, making this a beautiful sight, to the perfect cast guided through this brilliant story with Polanski’s excellent direction, this has truly deserved to be called one of the best of its genre, just as it deserves a spot on any ‘best movies’ list.
NB. Trailer contains some spoilers.
As the movie is told from his perspective, Jack Nicholson’s character Jack Gittes is present in every single shot.
This is the last film Roman Polanski filmed in the States. Shortly after filming he fled the country to avoid prison after being convicted for the statutory rape of a 13-year old girl and hasn’t set foot in the country since.
The thug slicing Gittes nose is played by Roman Polanski. He and Jack Nicholson got so tired of explaining the rather complex way they managed the scene (by using a specially-constructed knife with a short hinge that would be safe as long as it was handled very carefully) that they began claiming Polanski really sliced Nicholson’s nose.
Picture copyright: UIP