the fresh films reviews

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Chinatown (1974)

Directed by:
Roman Polanski



131 minutes

Produced by:
Robert Evans
Written by:
Robert Towne

Cast includes:

J. J. Gittes Jack Nicholson

Evelyn Mulwray

Faye Dunaway
Noah Cross John Huston
Lieutenant Lou Escobar Perry Lopez
Russ Yelburton John Hillerman -
Hollis Mulwray Darrell Zwerling -
Ida Sessions Diane Ladd -
Claude Mulvihill Roy Jenson -
Man with Knife Roman Polanski -
Detective Loach Dirk Bakalyan -
Lawrence Walsh Joe Mantell -
Councilman Noble Willingham -
Irate Farmer Rance Howard -
Curly Burt Young


Roman Polanski's landmark noir is still among the best of its kind, half a century later. One of the reasons is that unlike quite a few entries in this genre, Chinatown doesn't force its noir elements on you; they emanate as a natural consequence of the story. And the story, by Robert Towne, is not only one of the most elaborate screenplays ever written, but also a fascinating historical and psychological study. Jack Nicholson plays J. J. Gittes, an ex-cop turned private eye whose usual assignments consist of busting adulterous husbands and wives. When he is hired by a woman identifying herself as Evelyn Mulwray (Diane Ladd) to tail her suspected unfaithful husband, he believes it to be another routine job until the real Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway) appears and her husband soon after is found dead. Chinatown isn't an instantly engrossing movie; it slowly sucks you in, much in the same way the rather aloof Gittes slowly finds himself entangled and engaged by the web he gets caught in. Nicholson's performance here is among his most level-headed and unidiosyncratic, although that doesn't mean less forceful. His J. J. Gittes is a well-crafted and timeless movie character. And as he ventures around Polanski's version of 1930s Los Angeles, the film's lush colour palette, agreeable cinematography by John A. Alonzo, and seductive music by Jerry Goldsmith create a fine foundation for Towne's potent conclusion. With John Huston as Dunaway's father, Perry Lopez as Nicholson's old partner, and Burt Young in a lively part as one of his less affluent clients.

Re-reviewed: Copyright 23.08.2023 Fredrik Gunerius Fevang
Original review: Copyright 28.02.2000 Fredrik Gunerius Fevang