Rian’s review published on Letterboxd:
“Can you believe it? We're in the middle of a drought, and the water commissioner drowns. Only in L.A.”
Probably my favourite film of all time, which I’ve always said I won’t write anything on, as I fear I could never do justice to it (and reading this whole thing back, my insecurity has been confirmed).
But screw it; I'll still try, if only to make a document for my older self to reminisce on. Therefore, this ‘review’ will be more of a rambling essay of an intimate nature… so be warned. Okay, how does a film become a cinephile's all-time favourite? Who's your favourite child?! I mean one movie... which no matter how many times you see it, the satisfaction levels only increase. It goes against a fundamental principle of Economics, you know: Diminishing Returns - the more you consume something, the less benefits you gain. Or something like that. I mean, think about it, how many films have you seen multiple times and have liked less because you uncovered some flaw in the story or some dated fault in the filmmaking; something that escaped your grasp the first time you saw it? I've had quite a few movies dwindle in my eyes like that. Only the most perfect, timeless films, like Chinatown, survive the rewatch test, and grow in stature as the years go on. That’s reason #1 why it is my favourite: it’s absolutely flawless in regards to the filmmaking & the plotting.
I think another aspect you have to consider with favourite films is the expectation. Is a film highly regarded, loved, reviled, etc? Because a film's reputation, in my estimation, does play a major role in your liking/disliking of it. In Chinatown's case, I was a bit fortunate. I was not as much of a movie addict when I saw it, and I was really naive about cinema. But I was somewhat aware of Jack Nicholson and his legacy, so when I saw his name on the DVD cover at the local video shop, I blind bought the film. I figured it was about time I saw one of his movies, and to see more of the older classics in general. Thus brings me to reason 2 of why this is my favourite film: I was able to discover its greatness ignorantly, and as such, allowed myself to be more fond of it as opposed to watching it with its towering rep in mind and being forced/inclined to agree that it was a great film. This was the movie that made me establish the rule of not knowing too much beforehand about the films I watch.
And now I'll turn my attention to the actual content of the movie; the 3rd and final reason why Chinatown is my darling baby. Of course, I won’t be discussing the storyline, since my third paragraph already states that I believe you need to go into all films, specifically this one, cold. I’m not too good with summarizing that sort of thing anyway. But I will say this: the unraveling of the [misleadingly disjointed] plot is brilliantly done by Roman Polanski. He once said in an interview that a good movie should always leave the audience wanting for more, and you definitely get that with Chinatown, scene after plot-twisting scene. What I especially love about the film are the little things: the ‘You’re screwing just like a Chinaman’ joke – which always cracks me up... Polanski’s fabulous cameo and the resulting cut on Nicholson’s nose (there’s just something very iconic about that look... a policeman later mocks him by staring at his face and scratching his own nose; I smile every time at that gesture)... the detective subtleties – like where Nicholson would leave a watch under the wheel of a car to know exactly what time his suspect left an area... and the big things: Jerry Goldsmith's music – which superbly captures the noir feel and creates a moody atmosphere... the vivid visual compositions and set design... John Huston’s small but absolutely brilliant, devilish performance (one of the screen's best antagonists, I dare say), Faye Dunaway's composed, [yet] jittery and sometimes sultry performance (in a film filled with memorable, complex characters, she arguably nails her's the best) & Jack Nicholson's strong, charismatic, swaggering, star-making lead performance (arguably his most shining highlight of his immensely successful career... cool fact: he's present in every single scene - and as he's since become my favourite actor ever, that works in the film's favour)... the fantastic dialogues – ‘She’s my sister [slap], she’s my daughter [slap], she’s my sister and my daughter!’ (seriously, this is easily one of the best screenplays ever penned)... and one of the greatest endings for any film; ‘Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown!’ – which is smashing because the story was always an enigma, and to an extent it remained one; the title reads ‘Chinatown,’ but the movie never takes place there, not until the shocking conclusion, the part where it has been pushing and stifling the viewer towards for its entire duration. That’s when we fully unearth the implied tortured history of Nicholson’s character in the city, and how he’s failed again in rescuing someone he cared for (or something to that effect). Powerful, powerful stuff. Bleak and unforgettable!
And that's all I have to say. Many have said it better. This is a richly thematic film covering corruption, haunted lives, deceit, and (to steal what another reviewer has said) the devastating triumph of evil over good (incredibly, the famous ending was changed from a much happier resolution - thank God). Truly, a terrific neo-noir (a love letter to the film noir genre) and one of the finest films ever made, period.