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Chinatown (1974)

tomatometer

98

Average Rating: 9.3/10
Reviews Counted: 62
Fresh: 61 | Rotten: 1

As bruised and cynical as the decade that produced it, this noir classic benefits from Robert Towne's brilliant screenplay, director Roman Polanski's steady hand, and wonderful performances from Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway.

88

Average Rating: 8.5/10
Critic Reviews: 8
Fresh: 7 | Rotten: 1

As bruised and cynical as the decade that produced it, this noir classic benefits from Robert Towne's brilliant screenplay, director Roman Polanski's steady hand, and wonderful performances from Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway.

audience

93

liked it
Average Rating: 4.2/5
User Ratings: 72,793

My Rating

Movie Info

"You may think you know what you're dealing with, but believe me, you don't," warns water baron Noah Cross (John Huston), when smooth cop-turned-private eye J.J. "Jake" Gittes (Jack Nicholson) starts nosing around Cross's water diversion scheme. That proves to be the ominous lesson of Chinatown, Roman Polanski's critically lauded 1974 revision of 1940s film noir detective movies. In 1930s Los Angeles, "matrimonial work" specialist Gittes is hired by Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway) to tail her

R,

Drama, Mystery & Suspense, Classics

Robert Towne

Nov 23, 1999

Paramount Pictures

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All Critics (62) | Top Critics (8) | Fresh (61) | Rotten (1) | DVD (36)

As much as I admire the work of both Polanski and Nicholson, I found Chinatown tedious from beginning to just before the end.

January 18, 2013 Full Review Source: Chicago Tribune
Chicago Tribune
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Roman Polanski's American made film, first since Rosemary's Baby shows him again in total command of talent and physical filmmaking elements.

March 27, 2009 Full Review Source: Variety
Variety
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Polanski's film suggests that the rules of the game are written in some strange, untranslatable language, and that everyone's an alien and, ultimately, a victim.

March 27, 2009 Full Review Source: Chicago Reader | Comment (1)
Chicago Reader
Top Critic IconTop Critic

The hard-boiled private eye coolly strolls a few steps ahead of the audience.

February 9, 2006 Full Review Source: Time Out
Time Out
Top Critic IconTop Critic

In 1974 a director, a screenwriter, and a producer (Robert Evans, who for once deserves a few of the plaudits he's apportioned himself) could decide to beat a genre senseless and then dump it in the wilds of Greek tragedy.

August 5, 2003 Full Review Source: Village Voice
Village Voice
Top Critic IconTop Critic

A new private-eye melodrama that celebrates not only a time and a place (Los Angeles) but also a kind of criminality that to us jaded souls today appears to be nothing worse than an eccentric form of legitimate private enterprise.

May 20, 2003
New York Times
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Chinatown is deliciously, intolerably cruel as it toys with us.

February 4, 2014 Full Review Source: Movie Mezzanine
Movie Mezzanine

Arguably the best private eye movie ever made, Chinatown is an enthralling, sepia-tinted throwback to the shadowy, hard-boiled detective films of the '40s and '50s.

August 22, 2013 Full Review Source: Flix Capacitor
Flix Capacitor

This film is flawless.

January 5, 2013 Full Review Source: Observer [UK]
Observer [UK]

Polanski's telling of his tale of corruption in LA is masterly - thrilling, humorous and disturbing at the same time - and brilliantly played by John Huston and Faye Dunaway as well as Nicholson.

January 4, 2013 Full Review Source: This is London
This is London

See this film as many times as you can. Please.

January 3, 2013 Full Review Source: Little White Lies
Little White Lies

Unmissable.

January 3, 2013 Full Review Source: Guardian [UK]
Guardian [UK]

Trust Polanski to make disillusionment seductive - rather more luxuriantly so than Billy Wilder ever managed.

January 3, 2013 Full Review Source: Daily Telegraph
Daily Telegraph

You _can't_ forget it. It's CHINATOWN.

December 28, 2012 Full Review Source: Twitch
Twitch

Unforgettable.

December 17, 2012 Full Review Source: Total Film
Total Film

A neo-noir classic.

September 27, 2012 Full Review Source: Three Movie Buffs
Three Movie Buffs

one of the great masterworks of '70s American cinema and an apex of the decade's obsession with genre revisionism

April 4, 2012 Full Review Source: Q Network Film Desk
Q Network Film Desk

Intrigue and suspense are the order of the day, and nothing is as it appears. Inscrutable, to be sure, and a wonderfully entertaining motion picture.

March 24, 2012 Full Review Source: Movie Metropolis
Movie Metropolis

Great hardboiled detective film. Not for kids.

January 2, 2011 Full Review Source: Common Sense Media
Common Sense Media

Jack Nicholson gives one of his best performances as Jake Gittes, possessing an old school charm that none of his peers can match.

July 6, 2010 Full Review Source: Matt's Movie Reviews
Matt's Movie Reviews

A landmark blend of acting, directing, structure and design. Chinatown is the greatest detective movie ever made.

October 19, 2009 Full Review Source: Clothes on Film | Comments (2)
Clothes on Film

Like "Casablanca," "Chinatown" (1974) represents a perfect storm of prodigious cinema talent coming together under an intoxicating noir setting, albeit of neo noir influence attributed to by the warm California sun.

April 20, 2009 Full Review Source: ColeSmithey.com
ColeSmithey.com

The greatest film of 1970s cinema's golden era (that wasn't made by Martin Scorsese).

March 27, 2009 Full Review Source: Film4 | Comments (5)
Film4

This is a never-bettered noir masterpiece.

March 27, 2009 Full Review Source: Empire Magazine
Empire Magazine

Audience Reviews for Chinatown

One of the best late century detective noirs, Roman Polanski helms a stunning vehicle for star Jack Nicholson while weaving a web of intrigue, murder, and calculated conspiracy as only he can do. What remains gripping about this period thriller after so many years has to be the precision in setting, being that Los Angeles was a lovelorn subject of author Raymond Chandler, and the time period expresses the moving innovation of technology and clash with worldwide politics. Los Angeles is itself a character in this film, though I hate to use that expression. The premise is subverted from what noirs generally look to, making lead character P.I. Jake Gittes confused and feeling taken advantage of in the beginning, when most P.I.s are the narrators and the ones in charge. Instead of finding corruption in most cases Gittes is most often called upon in marital disputes, and therefore he seems a pawn in the conspiracy. He finds this to be wanting, and handles the case himself, which leads to him uncovering lies about a new dam going up, and eventually it leads back to his employer, a widow who wants to get to the bottom of the case as badly as he does. Jack Nicholson is the most subdued I've ever seen onscreen, and yet has a quiet, animalistic sexuality about him that makes him both piteous and strong at the same time. The conspiracy itself is beyond tangled and complex, which makes it even better to watch Gittes unravel it one interview after another. Faye Dunaway always seems so tepid in large roles, but here, a ray of personality shines though, and between her precise acting and doll-like features she captures the role and wrestles it to the ground. Polanski simply shoots a timeless film with serious implications: not living up to your potential, corruption in public works leading to a lost generation, incest, and villainy of an unnamed sort. This is one of the best films of all time, and it raises more questions than even an investigation should.
October 9, 2013
FrizzDrop

Super Reviewer

Remarkable noir: as much a crafty subversion as it is a traditional mystery. But I'm very open to someone explaining to me in detail why this is SO highly praised.
October 7, 2013
Kevin Cookman

Super Reviewer

An extremely complex film noir full of mystery and intelligent twists that keep us involved the whole time trying to put together the pieces of the puzzle, and the brilliant script is only matched by Polanski's excellent direction and Jack Nicholson's nuanced performance.
September 15, 2013
blacksheepboy

Super Reviewer

'Chinatown'. An intricate, tragedy-drenched, noir screenplay revealing layers throughout, a resourceful J.J. Gittes played well by Jack Nicholson, and a fine sense of atmosphere, time and direction created by Polanksi.

I couldn't latch on to Nicholson's or Dunaway's characters, and as much as I can appreciate this on a technical level, it didn't grab me in any way, nor live up to the promised marvel.
January 6, 2013
c0up
c0up †

Super Reviewer

    1. Evelyn Mulwray: I don't get tough with anyone ... my lawyer does.
    – Submitted by George P (4 months ago)
    1. Man With Knife: I'm a pedophile kitty kat.
    – Submitted by Jesse K (8 months ago)
    1. J.J. Gittes: As little as possible
    – Submitted by Sree L (10 months ago)
    1. Ida Sessions: Are you alone?
    2. J.J. Gittes: Isn't everybody?
    – Submitted by steve l (13 months ago)
    1. Walsh: Forget it, Jake, it's Chinatown.
    – Submitted by Dutch E (13 months ago)
    1. J.J. Gittes: As little as possible.
    – Submitted by Daniel A (16 months ago)
View all quotes (28)

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Foreign Titles

  • Chinatown (DE)
  • Chinatown (1974) (CA)
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