← Back to Reviews

A pair of charismatic lead performances, a meticulously crafted screenplay, and the undeniable artistry of Roman Polanski in the director's chair made 1974's Chinatown an instant classic that received ten Oscar nominations, including Best Picture of the Year and deserved every accolade it received. This film is, simply a masterpiece and I am kicking myself for waiting so long to see it.

The setting is 1930's Los Angeles where we meet a slick private investigator named JJ Gittes who is hired by a woman named Evelyn Mulwray to find out if her husband, the Los Angeles Water Commissioner, is having an affair. It is soon revealed that the woman who hired Gittes is not the real Mrs. Mulwray and a short time later, Mulwray is found dead and Gittes wants to find out exactly what happened and is confused when the real Mrs. Mulwray just wants him to drop it and even pays him to do so. And thus begins a convoluted and fascinating tale of murder, greed, corruption, and family dysfunction whose many plot twists are difficult to keep up with at times but not so difficult that we don't stay on the edge of our seats for the entire running time.

Say what you will about the man's personal life, there is no denying that Roman Polanski is a master at screen storytelling, crafting a moody and disturbing crime thriller that will have names like Bogey, Bacall, Chandler, and Marlowe going through you head as Polanski proves his understanding and appreciation for the film noir and provides us with a dead solid perfect homage to the genre that entertains from start to finish with a grand assist from Robert Towne's flawless screenplay, which won the film its only Oscar. With the aid of some superb production values, Polanski beautifully recreates the gritty 1930's Los Angeles that this story demands, it's so dead on accurate that there were moments as I was watching that I almost wished Polanski had done the film in black and while...almost.

Polanski's cast delivers the goods as well, serving the story and always keeping it center stage...Nicholson was Oscar nominated for his sexy and unpredictable JJ Gittes and I don't think Faye Dunaway has ever been better, perfectly channeling Barbara Stanwyck and Joan Crawford in her role as the real Evelyn Mulwray that earned her a nomination as well. Dunaway would win an Oscar the following year for Network, but I have to wonder if that award was partially a consolation prize for being overlooked here. Dunaway is just flawless as the femme fatale who should have had a sign hanging around her neck that read "I haven't told you anything close to the truth and never will." There is a very stylish cameo by Oscar winning director and actor John Huston and even Polanski makes a cameo appearance as a menacing thug who cuts up Gittes' nose. Anyone who has any questions on how to make an effective film noir need look no further than here.