guppy's film reviews

Sunday, January 08, 2006


Year: 1974
Director: Roman Polanski
Notable Actors: Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Huston, Roman Polanski
Score: B+
Summary: Very good post-noir with some big names. Occasionally drags due to extreme length.


Chinatown is a reasonably well-known post-noir -- that is, a film noir made and set after the "classic" noir era. It boasts some big names (including Jack Nicholson), strong style and one of the twistiest plots around. It opens with private detective J.J. Gittes's (Jack Nicholson) preliminary investigation of an adultery case, but quickly expands into a much bigger investigation, the details of which I'd rather not spoil.

Overall, I like Chinatown a lot. My favorite thing about it is that it doesn't hold your hand very much. For example, in one scene, a character places a pocketwatch underneath the tire of the car whose owner he is tracking, so that it breaks and indicates when the owner drove off. That's never explained; you just see the watch being placed, and the character checking it later. I prefer that to the alternative of forced explanatory dialogue, but you've got to be awake to follow along.

The plot has more twists and turns than you can shake a stick at. This is mostly good, since I didn't see most of them coming. The downside is that it takes almost two and a half hours to unfold, and at times you feel it. I thought the movie was going to end two or three times before it actually did, and while I enjoyed the twists, it went on a little long.

That's just the way it is, though. None of it is wasted time; there's just a lot of story to tell. So don't let the length put you off -- just make sure that you're in the mood for a longer film, and that you have the time.

Oddly enough, the one actor whose performance I wasn't so crazy about was Nicholson's. He does a creditable job, but his dialogue sounds forced; it feels almost like he isn't comfortable with the phrasing of some of his lines. If you liked his other earlier work, this shouldn't present too much of a problem, as it tends to exhibit the same characteristics. Also, Chinatown suffers from that "washed-out" look that is so common in films of that era, and you'll have to get past that to enjoy the film.

Overall, Chinatown is an excellent, intriguing film with a couple of problems. Even with those problems, I still recommend it. And I'm not alone -- it pops up on a lot of film buffs' favorite films lists. It's worth pretty much everyone's time to see it at least once, and I suspect many will find themselves rewatching it occasionally.


  • Solid review - and its refreshing... most folk stear clear of pointing out the flaws in "Classic, Great films"!
    It really shows that you have thought about the film.

    By Anonymous BranTheBuilder, at 10:15 AM  

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