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Chinatown (1974)

by British Film Critic

I’ve hesitantly stayed away from Polanski and his films for the longest time, mainly or entirely on the grounds of his grotesque, incriminating actions, but it was really only a matter of time before I landed on one of his movies, and that honour went to this one. There’s a very cool, smooth aura to Chinatown, that begins to whittle away progressively as the film’s narrative and its characters’ motivations unfold, yet nevertheless maintaining the suaveness that differentiates the film as very much it’s own thing almost immediately.

Los Angeles is such a fascinating city, as the diversity of interpretation of this fabled place has allowed for some very heartfelt, and some very cold depictions of the city of angels, and Polanski very much makes it his own, looking well beneath rather than glancing over the idyllic surface to make for a strong jumping-off point for this neo-noir detective drama.

Jack Nicholson is one of those actors that seemingly can’t phone in a performance, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen him so wrapped up in a role as much as he is in the character of Jake Gittes – I can already confidently say he is one of my favourite movie characters of all time, with his wittiness, his moral ambiguity, his quiet contemplation and uncertainty and the sheer range Nicholson is able to bring to all of this being a major proponent.

Chinatown’s performances may in fact be the best thing going for the film, with the level of consistency in the realism of all the characters, across the board, being truly remarkable. That is not to say the film’s other aspects are subpar, quite the opposite in fact, with John A. Alonzo’s cinematography elegantly capturing the small facet of LA Polanski decides to key in on, and Jerry Goldsmith’s smooth, jazzy theme therapeutically guiding you through the events.

The more and more I delve in the noir/neo-noir genre, the more I become enveloped by it, and Chinatown was simply another step down the rabbit hole. Constantly escalating and keeping you on your toes with a spiralling, complex narrative and riveting characterisation, this is a classic that is well deserving of its recognition.