The Roman Polanski film Chinatown follows Jack Nicholson as a private eye hired by a mysterious woman to investigate the death of her husband. At the same time, Nicholson’s character is looking into the activities of the L.A. Water Department.
Chinatown is one of those films that gets better on second viewing because of the ending of the movie (which is quite depressing). Once the mystery is solved, a lot of the puzzle pieces fall into the place and it’s interesting to watch. It’s disturbing to watch this film once you know what kind of things Polanski has done in his life. I’ll give you a hint; it involves minors. So, maybe the ending is not depressing to Polanski. Perhaps it’s a feel-good movie to him.
Jack Nicholson is (unsurprisingly) brilliant as the private eye. His screen presence is just a joy to watch. Faye Dunaway, however, is the real star of this movie. She plays her part so well. At first, you think it’s a one-dimensional character who just has one facial expression. Once you’ve seen the film, however, you notice how good Dunaway really is.
The film also uses its music sparingly. When it does use music, it is reminiscent of the film noir-genre. The whole film, in fact, has that quality. Jack Nicholson as the guy with no clue what he’s getting into. Faye Dunaway as the femme fatale with a twist. At the same time, it’s a movie grounded in the American pioneer-setting. Faye Dunaway’s character’s father is the typical American pioneer grown old. He’s all about money and family in a dark, perverted way. He confronts the new American (i.e. Jack Nicholson’s character) and there is a scene in which their values clash. Nicholson’s character even asks the father at one point “What’s the use of making even more money?”
Another interesting point is in how the car-scenes are shot. The camera is often set-up inside the car on the backseat. This gives us a close and subjective look at the scenes. Especially the chase- and/or escape-scenes become interesting to watch. The film also gives us a look at a different Los Angeles. No Hollywood signs here! We get to see the suburban Los Angeles, but the movie culminates in Chinatown where the private eye’s career once began. He cannot escape Chinatown.
In short, Chinatown is a radically interesting film, though a tad long in places.