Steve G 🟨🟥’s review published on Letterboxd:
Some discussion around Chinatown on Letterboxd recently, most particularly on Simone's review, led to this rather last minute decision to watch it for the third time - and for the second time in the last year or so.
I think it could be a growing trend for me, if not for lots of people on Letterboxd. The discussion or mention of a film suddenly leaves you with an instant urge to watch it again, but the pattern of the way this has happened to me so far on Letterboxd has not been a case of me doing it whenever someone mentions one of my very favourite films.
Because Chinatown isn't one of my absolute favourite films, no matter how great it is. However, it is definitely the mark of a film that has left an impression in a major way on me, and Chinatown has certainly done that. The first time I watched, probably about 10 years ago, I found it fairly difficult if really interesting. The plot is fairly dense, but then again so am I and when I rewatched it last summer I did wonder if I had just not been paying attention when I first watched it.
I seemed to pick it a lot more easily then (and tonight) and it's certainly not as if Roman Polanski is trying to make things difficult for us. He doesn't fart around at all in getting us right into the crux of the story and even an opening scene character would come back to play a crucial role late on in the film. It's a film that really rewards you paying it the respect that it deserves.
The plot has more or less passed into film legend as private eye Jack Nicholson is employed by a well-to-do wife to spy on her husband who she believes is having an affair. Things twist pretty quickly on that front and soon Nicholson finds himself embroiled in a controversy about the Los Angeles water supply during a sapping drought.
Obviously, there is a LOT more to it than that and Polanski shows his mastery of pulling together strands of story that might not initially look as though they connect to the main plot and making them all make complete sense. Two outstanding twists and an amazing finale mean that story-wise this is one of the many near faultless American crime thrillers made in the 1970s.
Not quite as importantly, but still well worthy of mentioning, it's incredibly stylish. It's not just the clothing or the hairstyles or the make-up (although all three of these contribute to Faye Dunaway, who is truly remarkable here, looking as beautiful as she ever did), but the way Polanski shoots everything. Even during the more action-packed scenes, he moves the camera with a languid style that really seems to sum up the atmosphere of Los Angeles at the time the film is set - almost as if the film itself is being affected by the draining heat.
I've ummed and ahhed about this for a fair few minutes, but having thought about it, I actually don't think I have any issues with this film any more. It's one of the great private eye mystery thrillers of all time, possibly the greatest 'modern day' noir, and maybe even Polanski's finest film.
Oh, and the trick with the watches? I bloody love that.