Chinatown - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Chinatown Reviews

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Super Reviewer
June 5, 2014
An excellent, classic film that is suspenseful, well-filmed, and features enjoyable twists and turns. Jack Nicholson is terrific--as usual.
Super Reviewer
August 8, 2010
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.
Super Reviewer
October 7, 2013
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.
Super Reviewer
September 14, 2013
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.
Super Reviewer
½ January 6, 2013
'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.
Super Reviewer
April 20, 2011
It's strange seeing Roman Polanski's 'Chinatown' so soon after 'Citizen Kane', because now I'm giving out two perfect scores in a row. Truth be told, I enjoyed Polanski's work much more. The screenplay is obviously amazing and I loved the cinematography, the film is full of such brilliant scope. It is layered and compiled in such a fashion that it keeps every viewer intrigued and guessing. The great performances from the two leads don't hurt its value either. This is classic neo-noir cinema and it still retains every bit of its brilliance.
Super Reviewer
August 15, 2012
Jake Gittes is a former cop turned private detective. When he is contracted by a Mrs Mulwray to find out if her husband is having an affair, he takes to trailing Water Company Executive Hollis Mulwray. Mulwray appears to only have water and a dry riverbed on his mind but eventually they catch him with a young woman, although nearly immediately the news gets leaked to the papers and Mulwray goes missing, only to turn up dead. At this point the real Mrs Mulwray comes to Gittes threatening to sue him for his involvement and Jake realises that he had been set up to set up the Mulwrays. He continues his investigation into the murder only to find a conspiracy involving thousands of gallons of water being wasted during a drought and the mysterious presence of Mrs Mulwray's father, Noah Cross.

As a fan of film noir and tough detective movies, I am too often put off by modern entries into the genre that try to replace atmosphere and intelligence by just having nudity and swearing; the genre managed atmosphere without these in the forties and fifties but yet modern films seem to rely on them. With Chinatown however, everything works well as a homage to the best years of the genre and, as such, is very well set in the period and is of suitable presentation even if the material and tone is darker and harder than would have been allowed years ago. This is not to say it is just a copy and paste from better films because it isn't and indeed stands out as one of the best detective noirs I have seen in ages. The plot is always going to be the most important thing and it gets it spot on throughout, doing the proper thing of starting with a simple story and continually building it more and more complex as it goes. Unlike some other "classics" of the genre, Chinatown manages to do this without ever losing the audience and I found the plot to be both rewardingly complex but yet still very easy to follow.

Needless to say, things are very dark and the script is convincingly dark and miserable, leading to an ending that is as depressing as I have seen, not so much in what actually happens but also in the wider implications for the characters that the credits prevent us from seeing. Director Polanski does a great job of putting this story in a lush setting that produces a real strong sense of period but also manages to always be showing us the darkness coming through subtly throughout the movie. Of course it helps that he also has a great cast to work with. Jack Nicholson is iconic in this role and, if I had to pick one film to act as an introduction to Nicholson then it would be this one. He is tough yet damaged, upright but seedy and he brings out his complex character well. Dunaway has less screen time but is just as impressive with a similarly dark role. Huston adds class and manages to ooze menace while also coming across as a harmless old man. The support cast are all fine but really the film belongs to these three, with Nicholson being the stand out role.

Overall this is a very classy film that has stood up very well to become a well-deserved classic. The story is complex, mysterious yet simple to follow; it is dark and seedy without relying on swearing or nudity to set the atmosphere. The direction is great, with a real atmosphere and sense of time and place that is matched by a great collection of performances delivering a great script.
Super Reviewer
June 2, 2012
A film noir masterwork, Chinatown directed by Roman Polanski is a definitive classic of the cinematic medium. Brilliantly acted and plotted, Chinatown is an engrossing murder mystery that keeps you on the edge of your seat, and keeps you wondering what is truly going on. Jack Nicholson delivers a powerful performance as private eye J.J Gittes who is investigating a murder. What makes this film so good it's its intricate plot that demands repeated viewings. Roman Polanski's directing is flawless, and this may be his greatest work. Jack Nicholson and d Faye Dunaway have great on-screen chemistry. Chinatown is also a great looking picture that reflects the 1940's period very well. This is a superb film, one that will appeal to period film fans everywhere. A brilliant piece of cinema, this is a must see film, one that displays solid storytelling and memorable performances and mixed with an elaborate plot that will keep you guessing from start to finish. Polanski's film evokes the tone and atmosphere of 1940's Los Angeles perfectly, and it's a standout aspect of this film. This is a stellar crime saga that is among the greatest in the genre. If you're looking for one of Roman Polanski's greatest cinematic works, Chinatown may be the one. This is a significant work in the film noir genre that is boasted by a powerful cast and top-notch directing. Jack Nicholson easily is the best thing about this film, and when you combine that with a multi layered story that leaves you with something new to uncover after each viewer, you have a memorable film that is a flawless genre film. A true cinematic classic and one of the standout films that has shaped cinema for years to follow. A must see film for cinema buffs everywhere, Chinatown is one of the greatest films ever made. This is a film that should be seen by every true cinema buff.
Super Reviewer
April 19, 2008
When I first saw this film, roughly 5-6 years ago or so, I was a film buff, but I wasn't yet at the level I am today. I could appreciate this film, but looking back, I remember not really paying attention, plus, I watched it on TV, so there were commerical breaks and some censorship issues. Even though I didn't give it my full attention, I still gave it a "Full 5" partially because I felt obligated to, and partically because yeah, it deserves it.

Well, recently I decided to rewatch it, this time giving it my full attention, having it on DVD, and seeing it having far more knowledge and appreciation of POlanski, the genre, the historical and cinematic contexts (of the story and its creation), and being more mature to fully appreciate things in general.

I now recall my old review (which was like, a sentence, and not a good one at that), and I disown it. This true is an important and brilliant work of art. It's a great callbakc to classic 30s/40s film noir detective stories, and works as a legitimate entry into that subgenre, though in the "neo-noir" form.

They had some real guts to make this film when they did, as they did, especially since film noir detective stories were pretty blase by the 1970s, even though a few did crop up. Using actual historical events as the backdrop for the story, this is a tale of a sharp tongued private eye (who specializes in matrimonial cases) that gets caught up in a web of lies, deceit, and treachery, and gets far more than he bargained for, considering that he was initially hired to spy on a guy who is suspectedx of cheating on his wife.

What we get instead is a multi-layered story that is part mystery, part psychological drama, and part condemnation of those in control of public works who don't use their power and control responsibly. This is a lot to take on, but it's all very intriguing, mesmerizing, and brought to life by Robert Towne's sharp, intelligent, and amazingly cynical screenplay.

I just love the blend of classic detective story but infused with the attitudes of the era the film was made, but still played straight. This is some dark stuff, and it's not really about what it is initially about, and the title is one of those cases where it is integral to the whole yes, even though it doesn't figure in as much as you might think, kinda like Fargo. Still though, I can see why this film is so lauded. Controversy time though, I do think think this might be somewhat overrated to a degree, and also how weird it is that this film is so loved considering the material and how dark and cynical this all is.

The performances are of course outstanding, with Nicholson really helping to cement his legacy here, and some fine work from Dunaway, which includes a brief shot of her exposed nipple (not that anyone asked for it). Casting John Huston was a superb touch as well, and if you need to ask why, well, not to be a tool about it, but you probably should brush up on your film history.

It's not just the performers and script that make this film though. Jerry Goldsmith's score is great, and is alternately beautiful and depressing. Polanski gives some of his best direction here, the cinematography is pitch perfect, and there's all sorts of material here for analysis and discussing, and Lord knows I love me some subtext.

All in all, yes, despite my slight feelings of this being overrated and somewhat baffled as to why it is so revered, it is one of the best ever. SInce it manages to do that, it gets even more credit in my book for being a real gem.
Super Reviewer
December 29, 2011
Jake Gittes: But, Mrs. Mulwray, I goddamn near lost my nose. And I like it. I like breathing through it. And I still think you're hiding something. 

Chinatown is a must watch film if you consider yourself a film buff. It is one of those classics that deserves all the praise it has gotten. Everything that makes a film great is at work here. There's a great director, Roman Polanski, who knows when to be patient with a story, but also knows when to pick up the pace a little bit. There's a great performance from both the leading actor, Jack Nicholson, and the leading actress, Faye Dunaway. The plot is engaging and at times suspenseful. This is one of the best detective stories you can watch.

Jack Nicholson plays Jake, a private detective. One day a woman comes into his office and tells him she wants him to investigate her husband because she thinks he is having an affair. Her husband just happens to be the builder of Los Angeles' water supply system, and Los Angeles is in the middle of a bad drought. Well it turns out that the person who hired him wasn't actually the wife, and was hired to do it. After Hollis is killed, Jake begins to think there is something more going on than what meets the eye.

Before watching this I had a belief that I wouldn't like it as much as I do Rosemary's Baby; Roman Polanski's horror masterpiece, despite this being considered Polanski's best. After watching Chinatown, I must say, I still like Rosemary's Baby more. That isn't a nock on this film at all. It just goes to show how great Polanski is. Think what you want of him, but when it comes to making movies, he is a genius. I loved his cameo in the film too.

Chinatown is an amazing story of corruption and a great noir. Nicholson gives a tremendous performance, as he always did. Faye Dunaway is absolutely gorgeous and has a great screen presence. Nicholson and Dunaway have amazing chemistry when on the screen together. They make the movie worth watching just to see them together. Everything else(Polanski, wonderful cinematography, and a great score) are gravy.

Walsh: Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown. 
Super Reviewer
October 28, 2011
Fantastic film, the mystery is intriguing and the suspense is killer. Jack Nicholson gives one of the best performances of his career.
Super Reviewer
October 21, 2011
Film Noir gets a proper update in color. Perfect.
Super Reviewer
½ January 29, 2011
This was entertaining..And a nice journey. But I think it's a little overrated. Don't understand how this movie can please so many people even though I liked it. Nicholson is great as allways...And once again...It was fun to see Polanski in action. There's just someting entertaining about seeing him. And I don't think anbody can blame the ending for being predictable.
Super Reviewer
½ March 2, 2008
One of the greatest films ever made, plain and simple. From the tight, solid script to the cast to the direction to every single detail you could think of.
Super Reviewer
½ May 22, 2011
This classic film noir has no happy ending, no satisfying conclusion... yet it is that same characteristic that makes this somber 1930's period piece so intriguing and timeless - commenting on capitalist and bureaucratic corruption in our nation while exposing the bruised and often flawed relationships formed by it. Roman Polanski delivers a fantastic detective-crime film and Jack Nicholson gives a stellar performance.
Super Reviewer
April 5, 2011
It has been a good 20 years since I have seen Chinatown, and since I had recently viewed another Polanski film, decided that this would be a good time for another view.

Since I already know the story inside and out, this viewing allowed me to concentrate on the texture and pacing of the film as well as some of the quirky bit characters along the way. Here we have a 70's film taking place in 30's LA that perfectly mimics the noir film style of that era, from the shadows and lighting that have an almost black and white feel, to its treatment of women and Asians. The climactic scene in which the big secret is finally revealed is almost laughable in an off-putting kind of way, and yet somehow Polanski walks the fine line making it a statement of the times (for those unaware, it involves a man slapping a woman).

I'm not going to reveal anything of the story, just mention that it is a mystery wrapped in another mystery, where the motivating factors are quite original and the topic revolutionary for its time (early 70's). Polanski simply follows Nicholson as he follows the clues in a case that lead him into a Byzantine maze of deception that only vaguely relates to the case he was hired for.

Nicholson is superb as the gumshoe detective Jake - a former LA cop who is running a moderately successful PI firm (specializing in recording infidelities). While working a case he runs across the wife of an important government official, wonderfully portrayed as a chilly, detached, somehow damaged doll by Faye Dunaway. John Huston aptly plays her father; a rich man of the kind of moral ambiguity that suits a man who can buy whatever he desires.

Along the way we encounter a stereotypical Chinaman gardener, all bows and broken English; the female denizens of an old folk's home; a quirky group of cowboy ranchers (in an odd, odd scene that I frankly thought served no purpose); Nicholson's hard boiled ex partner who is now a police lieutenant, and various cliché heavies, including Polanski himself as a knife wielding thug (amusing since Polanski's first film was called Knife In The Water).

The ending is very melodramatic, yet true to the noir 30's feel, so even though you may role your eyes at what you are viewing, complete with the tag line "forget it Jake, it's just Chinatown", you can appreciate the artistry - the way that last bit was filmed and how every thread of the plot comes together in a very disturbing way. As the crowd of Asians flock towards Dunaway's car like moths drawn to a flame, you get a hint of the underlying message of the script - we are all, in one way or another, uprooted, displaced aliens making our way in this hostile environment called life.
Super Reviewer
September 5, 2010
Polanski's classic thriller is absolutely brilliant, I love it. It's his best film, so if you like his work you need to see it. It's like a modern film noir!
Super Reviewer
January 28, 2010
The greatest private-eye film ever. Full review later.
Super Reviewer
May 6, 2007
A masterful McGuffin, to say the least! Very good film, particularly because of the characters and the picture-perfect shooting we get from Polanski, though when the twist ending is revealed, you feel a little cheated. I kind of wanted to know what happened with the main plot! Can't say much more without ruining the plot. Not the greatest of the great, but understandably, Chinatown is a classic for its innovative storytelling and its controversial subject matter. I have to say, though, Homer Simpson really ruined it for me, leaving me waiting all movie for someone to say "Forget it, Jake, it's Chinatown!" - it's probably better than I'm giving it credit for. It's suspense alone is notable. A can't-miss.
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