Who would have thought that water could be such a dirty business?
1937, Los Angeles, California, private investigator J.J. “Jake” Gittes, played by Jack Nicholson (The Shining, The Bucket List) is hired by a woman claiming to be Evelyn Mulwray, played by Dianne Ladd (Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, Embryo). The case seems simple enough, follow the lady’s husband and do a little snooping around; easy enough for an experienced gumshoe like J.J. Gittes! Things quickly become more complicated as the husband is non other than Hollis Mulwray, Chief Engineer of the LA department for Water and Power.
J.J. continues his role and does what he believes that he’s been hired to do, only to realize far too late that he’s been setup and now he is in far too deep.
Intrigue and betrayal run throughout the story as Jake must get to the bottom of a mystery that is evolving quicker than water running out of a reservoir. Is anyone who they claim to be and can anyone be trusted? Is everyone corrupt in this town?
As the plot moves forward in this twisting tale of greed, corruption and filth the direction of Roman Polanski (Rosemary’s Baby, Tess) captures the “Film Noir” essence that makes this movie so enjoyable. While credit certainly goes to the direction of Chinatown for the framing in this seedy underworld, it is the enthralling acting of Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway (Mommie Dearest, Barfly) which really propel the story.
From undertaking the mundane day to day work of a typical private eye this post evolves to stumbling upon a huge conspiracy. J.J, is right in the middle where nobody whats him to be and is frantically trying to escape not only with his reputation intact but also his life. As the story develops and it becomes clear that some people are not who they say they are and others cannot be trusted, J.J. becomes resolute that he will follow every lead in this winding mystery as he becomes further and further obsessed by the details unfolding before him.
Where the threads of this tangled web take him is into the seedy underbelly of high society and big business, the places that should be above the cutthroat tactics employed to secure contracts and personal wealth for the victor. With each layer of intrigue being uncovered and forming part of the bigger picture, the story races to its shocking conclusion where nobody can truly claim to be innocent. Twisting and turning through surprises its impossible for the viewer to know what is coming next and who will betray or be betrayed.
This film is possibly one of the last great examples of the film noir genre along with LA Confidential. The environment perfectly captured by precise camera work, dialog and acting that pulls the viewer directly into the story. Being filmed in 1974 meant that special affects wouldn’t be employed and the story would have to be portrayed by art itself.
A grueling task that this is wonderfully completed. Chinatown is a viewing experience that will entice people who are fans of mystery thrillers, investigative drama, action and especially those viewer who love to be kept guessing. One of the great cinematic masterpieces which certainly stands up to time, even in todays world of CGI.
Inspired by the true life “California Water Wars” of the early 1900’s, the US Library of Congress has marked this film as “Culturally, historically or aesthetically significant”. Frequently listed as one of the best film ever made, Chinatown is a must watch cinema experience.