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movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Chinatown

Starring: Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway
Director: Roman Polanski
Rated: R
RunTime: 131 Minutes
Release Date: January 1974
Genres: Drama, Noir, Classic, Suspense

*Also starring: John Huston, Perry Lopez, John Hillerman, Diane Ladd, Burt Young, Darrell Zwerling, Bruce Glover, Roy Jenson

Reviewer Roundup
1.  Andrew Hicks review follows movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewmovie review
2.  Brian Koller read the review movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewmovie review

Review by Andrew Hicks
4 stars out of 4

Roman Polanski didn't impress me too much with ROSEMARY'S BABY, the boring tale of Satan impregnating Mia Farrow, but he won back my admiration with the film noirish CHINATOWN. This detective flick takes its cues from the great noir films of the '30s and '40s (comparisons to THE MALTESE FALCON spring instantly to mind), but has its own cynical view that doesn't let good automatically win out all the time. It also has Faye Dunaway's breasts.

Jack Nicholson, in one of his best all-time roles, plays J.J. Gittes, a private eye who makes money off husbands who suspect their wife is cheating on them, and vice versa. He insists it's an honest living and enjoys all the publicity he receives, until a woman pretending to be the wife of the head of the water company uses him to frame the poor guy.

Dunaway, as the real wife, is mad as hell and threatens to sue Gittes. But he's just as mad as she is that his reputation as photographer of infedity could be tarnished like this, and offers to help get to the bottom of it. The plot turns out to be one of those kooky real estate schemes, involving L.A.'s perpetual water shortage and a bunch of orange groves the water is secretely being rerouted to. All in all, it's going to gross the bad guys about $30 million.

Complicating matters somewhat, Dunaway's husband turns up dead after about the first 30 minutes (drowned, of course) and no one knows who perpetrated his death. Could it be Dunaway herself, the femme fatale? Or Dunaway's shady father (John Huston), who was once partners with the dead man? Or the crooked policeman Gittes once worked with in Chinatown? Or did Mrs. Peacock kill Colonel Mustard in the study? You'll have to watch to find out.

Nicholson is perfect in the role of Gittes -- innately cool and tough yet completely human and flawed. He has his own strange code of ethics (it's okay to profit from adultery, etc.) but finds himself violating this as he lets down his guard with Dunaway. He even spends almost one-third of the film wearing a giant bandage on his nose, after Polanski himself slices it up, to exemplify the fact that he isn't an untouachable movie hero. If there's any detective movie successor to Humphrey Bogart it's Nicholson in CHINATOWN.

CHINATOWN is one of those rare crime movies that doesn't overexplain each one of its plot elements so that it won't confuse even the most idiotic moviegoers. I'm so used to having every plot twist fed to me that CHINATOWN almost lost me at the end with its subtlety. God forbid that I should actually have to think about what's happening on the screen and piece together some of the clues onscreen, but that's part of Polanski's genius in this film. Now I'm starting to think maybe I missed something in ROSEMARY'S BABY...

Copyright 1997 Andrew Hicks

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