Jaime Rebanal’s review published on Letterboxd:
What defines Chinatown is its ability to take what we've come to love about film-noir and perfectly adapt it into a new environment. The hardboiled mystery to Chinatown exemplars as neo-noir that perfectly pays tribute to what we've grown to love about classic film-noir but in its psychology, the layering added to this work is something that cannot be repeated. Even though I'm one who considers Repulsion to be their favourite from Roman Polanski, it's a tad conflicting when he has also left behind this masterpiece, such an expertly crafted piece of work that excels in such a manner out of the ordinary.
On my first viewing of Chinatown I remember finding it to be a reasonably difficult film to talk about, but I was never bored the whole time. It's reasonably difficult on one viewing to pick apart what it is that makes this an exceptional piece of work as it stands but upon many viewings there was more I were to pick apart and I only grew to love much more about it since. It's rather fascinating as there's one layer of a film that shows a unique exercise in terms of its stylistic influences which are put to exceptional use then upon digging into the layers more, Chinatown is most certainly a haunting picture.
What's perhaps most extraordinary about a film like Chinatown is its script, which is arguably one of the finest, if not, the finest example of the craft. It's a script that is so full of detail, just its establishment of the scenario depicted on the screen and the motivations behind everything, the smooth dialogue, down to the layering of the psychology presented, it's a mere flawless work in that field. Robert Towne's writing is something to be remembered for all the ages, but hyperboles alone won't provide the same experience that comes around when watching Chinatown, a rather wonderful one at that - he masters mystery in one of the most engrossing means that comes to mind.
Coming down to the film's means of being a love letter to classic film-noir by adapting what we love about them into a new environment, all the influence is perfectly clear from the very moment it starts, but we also have Polanski offering his own spin. You hear a wonderfully jazzy score that goes to remind us of the joy experienced from watching classics of the kind but soon there's a deep contrast from them seeing how when Chinatown starts, the colours are bright. Yet when the shadows come into play, that is where Polanski sets out for the greater moments that come along, through his establishment of the overall atmosphere.
From down to the details of Polanski's characters is another area where Polanski has expertly mastered the psychological depths of Robert Towne's script. Jake Gittes, who is played by Jack Nicholson in what I see as his finest performance to grace the screen, is a hardboiled detective who is unwilling to leave his cases open-ended. He works in an office akin to Humphrey Bogart's in John Huston's The Maltese Falcon (and John Huston himself plays the antagonist of the story, Noah Cross) and the homage is clear from the plot details that start the mystery - but as we explore the break down the psychology forming the character of Jake Gittes it goes to show what makes Chinatown an exceptionally layered character study.
Pitting the character of Jake Gittes and Evelyn Mulwray appears first in the convention in which we have the hardboiled detective meeting the femme fatale in a traditional film-noir, but what makes the chemistry and interactions between the two of them all the more intriguing is how it is critical of the place and time in which it takes place. They reminisce of wounds from the past inside of a more modern, corrupted world that never go away, it's fascinating what can be broken down from the exceptional performances of Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway, in the performances that I feel define their careers so perfectly. The tragedy that hits, especially in the iconic final sequence, is truly one of the most haunting that can ever be found in all of American cinema.
From the imagery alone, when we go down to the cinematography and the set pieces, it's very much a film that goes to take us back in time. The set pieces are on point with the smallest details of reminiscing back to the classic examples of film-noir and the cinematography is arguably some of the most beautiful I have been lucky enough to lay my own eyes on. There's always something little in just how Chinatown is framed that piques the interest of our own eyes and it truly makes for one of the most beautiful neo-noir tales ever to grace the screen.
Roman Polanski's direction is also something out of the ordinary, for he goes down to the very bare bones of the script and lets it shine on the screen, he perfectly paces such a piece and also is willing to fully explore the themes almost in a manner that they are disguised and it calls for multiple viewings. Polanski shows with a piece like this that he is an expert with structuring and extensive detail. He doesn't spoonfeed the very last bits, he just does whatever he can to make it all the more intriguing and at that, he is extremely successful and the result is extraordinary.
Chinatown is a tragedy about history, yet at the same time a tribute to classic films-noir through the updated setting, a depiction of the corrupting influence in our world, and a deep-rooted character study so rich in its psychology. The twists and turns that come along make such a mystery all the more mesmerizing of a watch, and with the look and feel of a classic film-noir, what's done so perfectly well is how it never feels so dated. It's truly a perfect piece of work, I'd only imagine those who may not recognize such amazing qualities to a piece like this are only being nosy fellas. But hey, as they said, "Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown."