Chinatown (1974) 4.71/5 (1)


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Rating: The Good – 94.4
Genre: Film-Noir
Duration: 130 mins
Director: Roman Polanski
Stars: Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Huston

Roman Polanski’s masterpiece sees Jack Nicholson’s private eye becoming embroiled in a conspiracy involving a wealthy widow, her father, and the water department. Nicholson is nothing short of brilliant as Jake Gittes and balancing as he does the hard-boiled grittiness of the best noir detectives with an enigmatic vulnerability, it remains his greatest performance. Faye Dunaway is also superb as the woman with the secret and her performance is intuitively tempered by the immense but complementary turn of John Huston as the grotesque Noah Cross.

The real stars here though are the director and the writer Robert Towne. Polanski nurtures the script with a repertoire of assured but delicate touches. This is crucial because it’s a script that grows. The characters are richly drawn yet each of the main players has an essential inscrutability which is integral to the mystery that pulses at the lower depths of the movie. Giving all this its shape and form is a structure that has rarely been equalled in the history of screenwriting and one that, on its own, seems to spawn and carry the bristling sense of fatalism that gradually emerges.

Like all great film-noir, this film is at the same time both eminently watchable and deeply dark. It seduces the audience with its palette of soft colours, its sumptuous set and costume design, and the cutting repartee of its protagonists so much so that we barely notice the stain underneath until we are faced with it in its entirety. Film-noir has always been about achieving such balance between the seductive and the dark and Polanski and Towne do it so well that Chinatown lingers longer than most.

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