Movie #158 2020: Chinatown (1974)

The weirdest thing about this movie is that I distinctly remember quite enjoying it at the time. What I can’t remember distinctly is what the hell it was all about.

A quick online search tells me that Chinatown entails lead actor Jack Nicholson – who plays a private detective J.J. Gittes – on the job in Los Angeles, who is hired to follow Faye Dunaway‘s character’s husband, whom she apparently supposes is cheating on her. After some twists and turns, Gittes finds a web of lies and corruption that is plaguing the water supply company in the city. This scandal was actually based on fact too; something known as the ‘California Water Wars’.

Because I don’t remember much about the ins and outs, I’m having to write this reviews based on the notes I made at the time, so please bear with me…

Chinatown kind of reminded me of Rear Window in its themes. There’s one particular shot (which I can actually remember – hurrah!) of the camera lens taking a photo from afar that is both brilliant, and clearly inspired by that little 1954 movie. If that’s not Hitchcock-inspired then I’ll eat my entire outfit.

Another thing that hasn’t eluded me: Jack Nicholson is majestic. I love him so much. His face does all the acting for him in this and also in many of his films – he definitely stands beside Al Pacino in my list of favourite actors, and Chinatown has only solidified that opinion.

One (very important) note I made when watching was this: ‘A classic noir in full technicolour’, which I believe completely summarises the film nicely with its nods to LA life in the 1930s. Roman Polanski is still frustratingly the scum of the earth though, so it’s even more annoying that he made this and The Pianist, because both films are really fucking well made. (Excuse my swearing there, but man, it makes me so angry that I like these movies).

The plot takes a little while to get to the point, but what kind of mystery is worth it if it’s easy? Nicholson carries the film well to ensure that it’s not tedious, and believe me, it really would have been were it not for the right star in the leading role. The soundtrack is menacing and has a classic detective movie score, which is probably the top aspect of this whole thing.

I was a little let down by the length of the movie in comparison to the amount of content you get by its conclusion, but it’s very well shot and I did not see the end coming, so a plot twist is always nice.

However… You may have noticed that one theme has been central to this movie, and that is the idea that it’s not very memorable. To my surprise, I only watched this movie 4 days ago, and it feels a hell of a lot more like a misty 2018 memory for me.

I wouldn’t rush to see this movie, but if you like culturally significant and aesthetically pleasing stuff, give it a go if you have some spare time.

Chinatown is available to stream on Sky Cinema and Now TV in the UK.

TQR Category Ratings:

Costume & Set Design: 
Overall Enjoyability Rating: 

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