Chinatown ★★★★★

“You’re a very nosy fellow, kitty cat.”

The private eye trades in secrets. He rushes in where even the secrets’ holders, let alone heaven’s messengers, fear to tread—in to places like 1930s Los Angeles, a small city in a vast desert where no city should logically have been settled. He is a romantic fool, capable of believing that the woman clearly hiding something can be trusted, that a cardinal truth exists and that it will set things right. He may be cynical, but he has a code, fundamentally moral and applied without exception.

Not so the men who made Los Angeles. They, too, are cynical and they, too, have a code, fundamentally venal and applied without exception.

Chinatown, Roman Polanski’s masterful noir from Robert Towne’s unparalleled, watertight screenplay, tells a story of deep-seated corruption in 1930s L.A. J.J. Gittes (Jack Nicholson), a private investigator, is asked to investigate suspected infidelity by Hollis Mulwray (Darrel Zweling), the Department of Water and Power’s chief engineer. Soon Gittes learns that the woman who hired him was an imposter and Hollis ends up drowned, leading Gittes deeper into a conspiracy to divert the Los Angeles water supply, shift the city’s growth, and make a fortune for those involved. But there are also the real Mrs. Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway) and her father, Noah Cross (John Huston), Hollis’ former business partner. And there is the young blond girl with whom Hollis was seen before his death, and with whom Evelyn is later seen. Gittes, in love with—but not entirely trusting of—Evelyn and rightly suspicious of the powerful and unscrupulous Cross, attempts to decipher the information he amasses, sensing a connected reality behind the shadows. But Gittes’ world-weary sentimentality cannot defend against Cross and his bottomless depravity, leading to a crushing but inevitable conclusion. In the alleyways of Chinatown, truth spoken to power yields only an echo.

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