Monday, 3 May 2010

Film Review: CHINATOWN (1974)

Director: Roman Polanski
Running time: 131 mins (approx)
Certificate (UK): 15

UK Release Date: 20th June 1974

Watched on Sky+ Monday 3rd May 2010.


Having recently watched Mr Polanski’s The Ghost Writer (2010), I decided to look back at one of his earlier works. I saw Chinatown many years ago and so it was an interesting experience to re-visit the old classic. Set in, what appears to be, 1930’s Los Angeles during a heat wave, private detective J.J. Gittes makes a living investigating adultery cases.

One day, a Mrs Evelyn Mulwray walks into Mr Gittes office and hires him to investigate he husband Hollis. She believes he is having an affair and wants evidence. Gittes and his associates get right on the case. Mr Mulwray is followed as he goes about his work as Chief Engineer of the city’s water department. There is a meeting about building a new dam to bring more water to the city that Mulwray is against. He also spends time inspecting dry river beds and finishes up spending most of the night on a beach where a large amount of water is dumped very late in the evening. Eventually he is caught out with a young blonde woman and the evidence, in the form of photographs, is obtained. The following day the story is all over the newspapers and Mr Gittes is confronted by the real Mrs Mulwray and her lawyer. Everybody wants to talk to Mr Mulwray but he seems to have disappeared. He is later found dead in a reservoir with salt water in his lungs. Mr Gittes now has another mystery to solve, one involving corruption the city’s water department, Evelyn Mulwray and her rich father, Noah Cross.

This is a classic movie, no special effects or fancy techniques, just the skill of the director and the art of the actors to convey the story. It’s the little things I noticed that made this film a stand out for me, the setting of pocket watches to find out what time Mr Mulwray left the beach or the smashing of a tail-light to make a car easier to follow at night. Great performances from all of the main cast, special mentions go to the immense Jack Nicholson as J.J.Gittes, the fabulous Faye Dunaway as Evelyn Mulwray and the great John Huston as Noah Cross.

It’s a very slow paced film that, for me, got a little bit too pedestrian towards the middle. The storytelling was spot on and the cinematography and dialogue were great. Over all it’s a really compelling detective story with quite a few twists and turns in it. There’s quite a different ending that you may not expect. It may have scored higher if it hadn’t fallen a bit flat in the middle, but it’s most definitely recommended.

My score: 8.3/10

IMDb Site:

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