"You may think you know what you're dealing with, but, believe me, you don't."
Sometimes things are bigger than ourselves, and despite how much we think we can change the world eventually we are brought down to our reality: we are much smaller than we think we are and there is little we can do against the big corporate giants. That is the main theme that director, Roman Polanski, is trying to explore here in this criminal film noir thriller starring Jack Nicholson as a wise and overly confident private detective who is about to learn that despite how much he wants to teach the bad guys a lesson perhaps things are a little out of his league. That is why the film is titled Chinatown, because it represents a time in Jake's (Nicholson's character) life where he wasn't able to make a difference in the police force and became cynical towards the world. "Forget it, Jake, it's Chinatown" is what they told him, and that is why he decided to retire and become a private investigator working on his own. He doesn't want to forget it, he wants to catch the bad guys and balance things out. He doesn't want these rich executives to continue thinking they can get away with anything. That is exactly why he decides to investigate things on his own and begins to enter dangerous territory where not everyone is who they say they are. He slowly begins to uncover one lie after another, and that is what makes Chinatown such an entertaining and masterful thriller. We are part of the investigation and begin discovering things at the same time Jake does. We are as confident as he is that he is going to uncover everything. This is Jack Nicholson's movie from the opening scene and he delivers one of his best performances to date. Faye Dunaway is also interesting in her femme fatale role; we are never sure if we can trust her or not. Polanski has delivered a perfect homage to the 40's film noir thrillers. Chinatown will remain as one of the best classical films of all time. This is my favorite Polanski film, perfect in every way.
Jake Gittes seems to be doing well as a private detective in Los Angeles, since he specializes in infidelities and there are many in the city. His latest assignment is to follow Evelyn Mulwray's (Diane Ladd) husband who happens to be the builder of the city's water supply system. His name is Hollis (Darrell Zwerling) and he is fascinated with everything that has to do with water, but Evelyn is convinced he is having an affair. Jake accepts the job and begins following Hollis, and surely enough he photographs him with a younger woman causing a scandal in the city. Jake believes his job is done, until a Mrs. Mulwray (Faye Dunaway) comes thundering into his office claiming that she had never hired him to follow her husband. Apparently the first woman claiming to be Mrs. Mulwray was only an impersonator and now Jake has a law suit in his hands. Surprisingly Mrs. Mulwray drops the law suit a few days later, and her husband is found dead after an apparent suicide. Jake is now hired by Mrs. Mulwray to discover who might have wanted her husband dead, and soon Jake will find himself uncovering an entire web of deceit and corruption that is much bigger than he thinks.
This masterful film was nominated for 11 Academy Awards, but only won one (Best Original Screenplay written by Robert Towne) considering it had to compete in 1975 with another perfect film: The Godfather Part II. One of the best things about Chinatown actually is the screenplay. There are so many great dialogues and quotes from this film that are still remembered today almost 40 years later. Chinatown is exactly what a classical film looks like. Polanski created a masterpiece by recreating the classic film noir from the 40's with great art direction, costume designs, and cinematography. The editing and the original score are also done wonderfully, but none of this would be enough if it weren't for the wonderful performances from Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway. Chinatown deserves all the praise it has received over time and it has really turned into a timeless classic and one of the few that continues to astonish modern audiences. The twists and surprises in Chinatown continue to work today.