Chinatown is a stylish and classy ode to the great Noir Films of yesteryear complete with an ideal cast that more than satisfies the rigorous demands of the moody genre.
If you didn’t know it already, you can tell by watching Chinatown that director Roman Polanski (The Pianist, Carnage) is a reverent filmmaker who enjoys paying homage to the art and artists of old Hollywood. His fondness for Tinsel Town’s glorious days of yore is reflected in every aspect of this highly acclaimed production of 1974. Everything from fashion to locations to plot is carefully crafted in order to provide an idealized look into the overly romanticized era. But Polanski’s ideal delves into the darkest edges of the gritty world, providing a far more realistic view than any Golden Age studio lens. There are no happy endings, and the resolution provokes nearly as many questions as it resolves.
In a performance that solidified his mega star status, Jack Nicholson (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The Shining) plays Jake Gittes, a hard-boiled private detective with a steady business of catching spouses with their pants down. In other words, he is the ideal underdog anti-hero of the genre. Likewise, Faye Dunaway (Bonnie and Clyde, Network) fulfills the role of a lifetime as Evelyn Mulwray, the mysterious icy beauty who stirs up Nicholson’s little world. Although the two are almost immediately repulsed by one another they also share a mutual attraction. In fact, the chemistry between these two icons of 1970s cinema is so powerful it practically leaps from the screen every time they share the frame. And every time these two do meet more sordid information comes to the surface and the story goes off into yet another new direction.
True to the nature of the genre, Nicholson finds himself pulled into a complicated plot of deception, double-dealings, city corruption and murder. With so many twists and shocking revels, the Academy Award winning script by Robert Towne (Shampoo, The Firm) is nearly as convoluted as the 1946 adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep. Accompanied by the perfectly atmospheric, Oscar nominated cinematography of John Alonzo (Sounder, Scarface) the film’s ultra moody mise-en-scene is reminiscent of the greatest films of the 1940s. And then of course, there’s John Huston in the pivotal role of Noah Cross, Evelyn Mulwray’s father and the most powerful man in Los Angeles. Not only is Huston (The Maltese Flacon, The Asphalt Jungle) one of the Golden Age of cinema’s greatest filmmakers, he helped define the genre that Chinatown aims to emulate. His presence in the film gives it a virtually anointed status.
By all accounts Chinatown is considered one of the greatest films of all time, and rightly so. With its artistry and fine craftsmanship it doesn’t mater how many years go by, this film will stand the test of time and play as well in 2074 as it did in 1974. It is a true masterpiece skillfully created by a team of unique talents not likely to be matched for a very long time. Of course, many will try and we hope that they do, because that’s where great filmmakers come from – from the inspiration of the films they saw in their youth. Just like all those involved with the creation of Chinatown.