Chinatown (1974)

Chinatown directed by Roman Polanski, written by Robert Towne

Chinatown directed by Roman Polanski, written by Robert Towne

Light spoilers ahead.

Chinatown is a detective, neo-noir film starring Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway.

It starts simple enough Jack AKA Jake (If I slip up, I’m sure you’ll understand) is a private investigator who gets hired usually by people who are trying to find out if their husband/wife/whatever are cheating on them. A Mrs. Mulray comes into the office and asks him to follow her husband to see if he is cheating on her. He tells her that she should leave it alone and that she’s better off not knowing.* She insists however, so Jake and his assistants end up tailing Mr. Mulray as he watches tide pools, stands near bodies of water, and participates in debates centering around building a dam and such. They see him with another woman and give the pictures to the wife.

Evelyn Mulray

Evelyn Mulray

The next day or so, the pictures end up in the newspaper and there’s scandal everywhere. A woman, who makes it a point to establish that she has never met Jake, drops the bomb that she is Mrs. Mulray and will be suing Jake and this was my favorite scene in the movie because it’s something akin to the scene in A Social Network when Andrew Garfield says “Lawyer up asshole…”

Except hers came first and is said with so much more poise. As she leaves the office, Jake pleads with her not to be so hard and she looks over her shoulder and is basically like “It’s not in my nature to be hard Mr. Gittes. That’s what my lawyer is for.” AND THEN SHE JUST SWEEPS OUT OF THE OFFICE AND IT’S MAJESTIC AND PERFECT. lol

Mulray (later killed)

Mulray (later killed)

Anyways, so Jake thinks that someone is trying to set up Mulray. He thinks that it’s really sketch (rightfully so) and he wanders the city trying to find Mulray so he can warn him. Except Mulray’s dead. He gets dragged up from a reservoir thing and the plot thickens. BUM BUM BUMMMM.

Jake embarks on a journey and to spare you guys spoilers, he finds out many details about many different people. He knows that someone wanted Mulray killed because he opposed the building of a dam. The city of LA doesn’t have any water (or so the farmers say) but there is evidence that suggests otherwise and Jake is trying to figure out everything. Read Wikipedia or watch the movie for the rest of the plot.

*I like how Jake says this and then throughout the film, he completely contradicts himself. There is even a moment where a henchmen catches him at night outside the reservoir and calls him a cat, wondering why he’s there so late and why he is being nosy. He gets his nose slashed very badly. There are many other moments that show that Jake doesn’t actually leave anything alone even though he would be better off not knowing the entire situation. So I really appreciated this bit of foreshadowing.

I think the only frustrating part of this movie (for me) is that Jake does not have good instincts at all. AT ALL. Maybe it’s just as a result of watching the Bourne Trilogy but Jake made so many rookie mistakes. Let’s review:

Jake Gittes

Jake Gittes

  • He didn’t bother sneaking anywhere. Sometimes, he went places in broad daylight.
  • He gave away his suspicions very early on to someone who CLEARLY wasn’t the head behind the master plan, thereby giving the actual head time to plan
  • He let his emotions get the best of him, several times accusing Mrs. Mulray of killing her husband.
  • He literally always uses his name. He never lies about why he’s there or what his name is. (only once did he lie about his name and they found out his real name anyways)
  • He never records ANY of the sketch conversations he has with people
  • THIS ONE TAKES THE CAKE!!!! After receiving a mysterious phone call with mysterious instructions to meet somewhere, he doesn’t take any backup or ask anyone for help
  • Once he arrives at the house, he sees that it’s been broken into. HE CONTINUES TO WALK INTO THE HOUSE.
  • EVEN AFTER SEEING A DEAD PERSON!!!!! HE TOUCHES THINGS, LEAVES HIS FINGERPRINTS PLACES…..I can’t. My spy training (courtesy of Jason Bourne) has taught me to NEVER go into a situation like that unless you have surveyed the entire area and have mapped out at least 7 possible escape routes.

Despite Jake’s questionable survival skills, overall Chinatown was very enjoyable. It offers a good plot, a simple, believable premise, enough suspense without being too much and engaging characters even if you don’t necessarily like them personally. There is an unnecessary hookup but it’s Hollywood so it’s expected. BONUS points for the terrible ending scenes. And when I say terrible, I’m referring to the circumstances not the acting or the creation of said ending scenes.

4/5 Stars

(P.S. See next post for my reactions to that terrible-brilliant but TERRIBLE- ending scene.)


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