I watched Chinatown about a year ago and to be honest, I didn’t like it. It was probably in large part because I wasn’t able to pay attention to the film. While I dozed at times this time around, I was able to follow the story line a lot better, which made for a more enjoyable experience.
J.J. Gittes (Jack Nicholson) is hired bu Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway) to investigate and confirm her husband’s extra-marital affair. In the process he is murdered and reveals a bigger problem with water availability, land values, and whatnot in L.A.
The number of layers to this story probably contributed to my disinterest in trying to watch this the first time. Having an idea of what was going on to start with definitely made a difference in understanding and following the many layers to this story.
The two lead performances in this film carry the story. While Jack Nicholson had a few memorable performances before Chinatown (Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces, The Last Detail), here you have his quick wit and brilliant stage presence. He would do 4 films the following year, including his first of 3 Oscars in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. His charm and brunt nature as Gittes helps to cut though surface-level pleasantries and really get down to the meat of things. Faye Dunaway is charming as always. She handles both the light-hearted parts and the heavy heart she has in dealing with her past and how that shapes who she is very well.
Burt Young was memorable, even if he wasn’t in the film very long.
While I was initially frustrated and disappointed with how the film ended, I came to appreciate and accept that sometimes the happy ending just doesn’t happen. People aren’t brought to justice. The innocent suffer. As one of Gittes former colleagues say, “Hey, that’s Chinatown.”
I originally would have given this film 2 out of 5 stars, but a second watching definitely helped change that. It’s an enjoyable film that keeps you guessing and served as a place to showcase Jack Nicholson’s leading character strengths.
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.