Larry’s review published on Letterboxd:
Forget it, Jake. Its Chintown.
Chinatown is an 11/10.
I finally picked up this classic on BluRay and I have to say, it really brings a lot of subtle details to light. This mysterious private eye masterpiece is a love letter to the noirish fast talkers of the 30's. And the sets, costumes, and locations really take you back to the era of drinking in the office, fancy suits, classic cars, revolvers, pocket watches, dames, slick men, jazz clubs, and chain smoking. The BluRay quite literally lifts this film out of a different era; you can see the brush strokes on a freshly painted 1930's office door and even where the waves made the stones wet after crashing upon the shores of a lonely California beach. Imagery. Its all nostalgic and classic imagery that reminds you of everything you love about old Hollywood while never feeling old hat. Its not just a throwback picture, its a highly unique and technically impressive one on its own.
The story of Chinatown (probably the greatest screenplay ever put to film) centers on wealthy, smarmy Private Eye J.J. "Jake" Gittes (Jack Nicholson) being commissioned to spy on a powerful LA Land and Water Department head by his wife. He exposes the man as an adulterer, and the mans candid photos become front page news, with Jake Gittes name plastered underneath. In a neat expository scene with Jake reading the article in a barber shop, he gets into a little scuffle with a man who calls his work unethical and exploitive.
"Oh yeah and how do YOU make a living sir?"
"I'm a mortgage banker."
"Ahh. How many families have you foreclosed on this week?"
Nicholson plays a character that has become kind of desensitized to his work but is still willing to defend his personal reputation. He makes an honest living using his skills to his advantage but it just so happens to be with exposing secrets. He isn't deliberately ruining people's lives. He is just providing a service of truth. But his work is not necessarily what has made him desensitized. His character is written to unravel along with the rest of the film, so his exposition is delivered deliciously in perfectly timed increments. He was a cop in Chinatown some time ago. Bad things happened. Him and his partner moved on. People keep referring to the Chinatown event, or Chinatown as being a generally bad place as to mystify it. We don't get there until the end of the film but naturally when we get there, legends come true and something truly awful happens. Its only Chinatown, Jake.
Chinatown is a film of lies, backstabbing, secrets, spying, smoking, broads, cops and criminals all baking under the warm LA sun. It glorifies noir themes and motifs but actually its a fairly bright, poppy film. Polanski plays with shadows sparingly but saves them for great moments. Despite it being midday, Jakes office is always dim, with the sun cutting in through the blinds to create a shadowy, mysterious and morally washed out place perfect for the character of Jake. The twisty screenplay and equally twisty characters walk through this almost dream like land and everything just feels like it literally could not have been better. In addition to the awesome attention to detail, there are small things that make Chinatown an awesome movie on virtually every level big and small. I loved how some characters ticks, mannerisms, and their occasionally cracking voices imply more than what is simply written for them to say. Their facial expressions, their shaking hands and all that subtle stuff add to the mystery and the vagueness of characters intentions. This truly is one of the best duos of acting I've ever seen thanks to Faye Dunaway and Jack Nicholson. Other small things like the smooth saxophone score that kicks in after the characters escape a shoot out and find themselves on a calm stretch of road. An out of breath hero comforting his dame after a firefight on the night road with a sax blaring in the background IS noir. Everything in this film SCREAMS noir but overall its actually just smooth and relaxing. Its a film with a lot to soak up and can be at times overwhelming in atmosphere and mystery. These are the films I live for.
Chinatown is an exceptionally crafted film. Its a character study, not only of Jake and Evelyn but of the place and time. The old wounds of LA are reopened and characters are trying to heal wounds of their own. But like Jakes sliced open nose, once the wounds are inflicted they never really leave. The wounds and histories of these characters will never leave or go away. Chinatown is an exposé of loss and facing your past. Its also a gut wrenching splash of reality when it comes to the truths of corruption.
Its one the best noir films ever made that isn't exactly a noir film.
Polanski diddled our imaginations and teased our intrigue. In this sense I'd let Polanski diddle me whenever.