Chinatown

1974

Chinatown

Critics Consensus

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.

99%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 68

93%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 77,647
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Chinatown Photos

Movie Info

A private detective, Jake Gittes, hired to investigate an adultery case, stumbles on the plot of a murder involving incest and the privatization of water through state and municipal corruption, land use and real estate. If he doesn't drop the case at once he faces threats of legal action, but he pursues it anyway, slowly uncovering a vast conspiracy.

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Cast

Jack Nicholson
as J.J. Gittes
Faye Dunaway
as Evelyn Mulwray
John Huston
as Noah Cross
Perry Lopez
as Escobar
Diane Ladd
as Ida Sessions
John Hillerman
as Yelburton
Roman Polanski
as Man With Knife
Darrell Zwerling
as Hollis Mulwray
Roy Jenson
as Mulvihill
James Hong
as Evelyn's Butler
Belinda Palmer
as Katherine
Roy Roberts
as Mayor Bagby
Noble Willingham
as Councilman
Rance Howard
as Irate Farmer
Jim Burk
as Farmer in the Valley
Doc Erickson
as Customer
Fritzi Burr
as Mulwray's Secretary
Charles Knapp
as Mortician
Claudio Martinez
as Boy on Horseback
Frederico Roberto
as Cross's Butler
Elizabeth Harding
as Curly's Wife
John Rogers
as Mr. Palmer
Cecil Elliott
as Emma Dill
Paul Jenkins
as Policeman
Lee de Broux
as Policeman
Bob Golden
as Policeman
John Holland
as Farmers in the Valley
Jesse Vint
as Farmers in the Valley
Jim Burke
as Farmers in the Valley
Denny Arnold
as Farmers in the Valley
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News & Interviews for Chinatown

Critic Reviews for Chinatown

All Critics (68) | Top Critics (13)

  • In its total recapturing of a past, in its plot, its vivid characterizations, its carefully calculated and accelerating pace, its whole demonstration of a medium mastered, Chinatown reminds you again that motion pictures are larger, not smaller than life.

    Apr 22, 2019 | Full Review…
  • As much as I admire the work of both Polanski and Nicholson, I found Chinatown tedious from beginning to just before the end.

    Jan 18, 2013 | Rating: 2.5/4 | Full Review…
  • 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.

    Jan 4, 2013 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…
  • See this film as many times as you can. Please.

    Jan 3, 2013 | Rating: 5/5 | Full Review…
  • Unmissable.

    Jan 3, 2013 | Rating: 5/5 | Full Review…
  • Roman Polanski's American made film, first since Rosemary's Baby shows him again in total command of talent and physical filmmaking elements.

    Mar 27, 2009 | Full Review…

    A.D. Murphy

    Variety
    Top Critic

Audience Reviews for Chinatown

  • Aug 30, 2017
    In the 1970's a bunch of American filmmakers and actors were given a bunch of money and told to just go away and make movies. And that they did. The consistent results led to the 70's arguably being the best decade in cinema that America has ever produced. We were gifted such classics as Taxi Driver, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's, Mean Streets, The Godfathers and Dog Day Afternoon. Chinatown is another of those films that can be considered a classic among this elite list and one of a few from this era of filmmaking that time has been most kind to. Plot: In 1937 Los Angeles, private detective JJ 'Jake' Gittes (Jack Nicholson) specialises in matrimonial/cheating spouse cases. When he is hired by Evelyn Mulwray who suspects her husband Hollis - a high-profile engineer - of having an affair, he gets on the case and produces photographs of him with a young girl. It soon transpires that Jake was hired by an impersonator and not the real Mrs. Mulwray (Faye Dunaway). When Hollis is found dead by drowning, Jake finds himself involved in a complex web of deceit involving murder, incest, and corruption that are all related to the city's water supply. Opening with Jerry Goldsmith's seductive and evocative noir score, Chinatown establishes it's mood from the very opening credit sequence and a perfect introduction of what to expect. Paying homage to the traditional gumshoe approach of Humphrey Bogart's Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe, Roman Polanski has a confident handle on Robert Towne's meticulously detailed screenplay. No sooner are we introduced to Private Investigator Jake Gittes as he surveys the sun-kissed lands of Los Angeles while applying the tricks of his trade to tail and investigate the latest of his infidelity cases. Like all good noir's, however, our doggedly determined P.I. soon stumbles onto something much bigger. In this case, the possibility of murder and the financial benefits of gentrification. As a result, Chinatown becomes a labyrinthine puzzle of a wider political spectrum that reaches far beyond anything expected and where nothing is quite as it seems. It's apparent from the offset that Chinatown is an impeccably crafted film with a measured pace and an attention to detail that has rarely been matched. There's so much on display that it's obvious that the entire cast and crew are operating at the top of their game; Richard Sylbert's production design perfectly captures the look and feel for 1930's L.A. and it's complimented greatly with John A. Alonzo's sumptuous cinematography. It's the twists and turns of Towne's Oscar winning script that impress the most, though. He keeps us at arms length for the majority of the film and never forces his hand a minute too soon. Nothing is rushed here as it marvels in patience. Even the title of the movie is elusive and doesn't fully make sense until the film is given time to play out. In the meantime, Towne and Polanski tease with smidgens of information peppered throughout the narrative. For the first time viewer this could be a slight challenge but Chinatown has grown in its stature over the years because it's has replay value. In fact, it demands it. This is not a film that can be appreciated in one sitting but if invested in, it all comes together masterfully. Even Jack Nicholson and his penchant for grandstanding is kept to a minimum. Nicholson keeps his usual histrionics at bay and although he displays flashes of his energetic approach to a character, his Jake Gittes is a far more reserved performance. Oscar nominated for his work, some still claim this to be Jack's best performance and it's not hard to see why. An elusive masterpiece of mystery and intrigue. The beauty of Chinatown's narrative lies in the deceitful lies told by it's characters. So much of the dialogue and interactions are not what they seem and it maintains a sense of secrecy and mistrust that the story and film thrive on. At one point, John Huston's callous and calculated Noah Cross says... "You may believe you know what you're dealing with but you don't" - this quote, in itself, sums up the film which also has a knock-out reveal that you, simply, don't see coming. It may be blasphemous to some (if not many) but my favourite of the sub-genre is still Curtis Hanson's L.A. Confidential. That said, Hanson's vision for that James Ellroy adaptation would, most likely, never have been possible had it not been for Chinatown leading the way in its style and composition. This is a timeless piece of cinema. Of course, the 1930's setting lends a hand but Chinatown hasn't aged in over 40 years which is a real testament to Polanski's approach to the material and the exemplary work by all involved. Mark Walker
    Mark W Super Reviewer
  • Sep 05, 2015
    A twisty noir thriller with a killer finale, Chinatown has aged remarkably well and remains suavely entertaining and brutally cynical.
    Isaac H Super Reviewer
  • Aug 29, 2014
    "Well, we're sitting here in Chinatown, and they're closing all the factories down!" There are, like, a million songs about, if not named after Chinatown, and I ended up going with Billy Joel's "Allentown", because not too many people remember The Move's "Chinatown". Maybe I should have referenced that song after all, because no one at all would remember The Move if they didn't lead into Electric Light Orchestra, and this film probably wouldn't be remembered if it wasn't Roman Polanski's last film made in the United States... and if it didn't get a lot of nods as the Oscars, a lot of wins at the Globes, and recognition from numerous people as one of the greatest noir films of all time. Some people might wonder why I would figure that this film would be forgotten, but Roman Polanski has made so many films that if the pedophilia accusations didn't come in, he would have fled from the States just for a vacation. It's a good thing he did bail out, because there's no way he could have defended against accusations of his being a sexual deviant after a film this sexually creepy (A sexually-charged detective noir? That's new!), and I stress the adjective "sexually" because it's just not a Roman Polanski film if it isn't a little creepy... or a little too long. Even "Macbeth" got rather excessive and dull, and it had real warfare instead of these here California "Water Wars". Sorry if I'm offending anyone, but the name of a situation that serious always sounded kind of silly to me, as did the basic concept of a war over water, but make no mistake, this film, while plenty creepy, is not silly, although it, as good as it is, does have other things going against it. As a neo-noir, this film broke a little ground, or at least impacted the formula for dramas of its type, but when it falls into convention, it falls hard, whether it be following Roman Polanski's usual storytelling structure and themes, or hitting noir tropes that range from a plot carrying themes of adultery, politically-charged murder, sexuality, etc., to an enigmatic lead who might be a little too enigmatic. Well-drawn and, of course, very well-portrayed by Jack Nicholson, the J.J. "Jake" Gittes character is a compelling lead, but not quite a distinguished one, for there is no immediate background on him, and only so many expository layers to a characterization that you'd think would be more fleshed out throughout the course of this lengthy, character-driven drama. As a matter of fact, while I understand that this film can't commit the noir sin of straying too far away from the point of view of its main character, this film also stands to flesh out its focal layers, as it gets to be a bit uneven in its progression, partly because it covers too much material, and takes it time to cover it. Running well over two hours and, of course, being directed by Roman Polanski, this film is way too long, with plenty of fat around the edges which, before too long, gets to be repetitious, having some limitations in storytelling dynamicity that could have been more easily overlooked if there was more dynamicity to Polanski's directorial storytelling. As it often is, Polanski's thoughtfulness is realized enough to be adequately compelling, with considerable effectiveness upon the incorporation of heights in material, but the director has always had a tendency to very often get carried away with his subdued atmospherics, and he does just that here, with a steadiness that makes a lot of the plotting material run together, stiffens pacing, and rounds it all out with a blandness that all too often slips into all-out dullness. Again, there is something inspired about Polanski's storytelling, leading to sound engagement value that, before completely wearing off, really kicks up with the thickening of plot, but when this film limps out, it crawls, down a formulaic, undercooked, uneven and altogether overdrawn path, until it finds itself running the risk of collapse into underwhelmingness. This film isn't quite what it could have been, but it is rewarding, with graceful subtlety, biting edge, and even taste. Taste can be found within Jerry Goldsmith's score, when it is, in fact, used in this largely deeply quiet and atmospheric drama, being rather formulaic in its noirish jazzy sensibilities, but lovely and effective in its tenderness, and carrying an artistic value which is even more subtle in John A. Alonzo's often flat, but reasonably handsome, shadowy cinematography. The stylistic trappings of a film noir are certainly there, and Roman Polanski at least works with those well, but as a director, he delivers on more than just aesthetic value, for although his trademark overt thoughtfulness gets to be seriously dull, and is ultimately too recurrent, it could have resulted in a flat film, if it didn't carry a certain atmospheric realization that immerses, and is biting once dramatic material comes into play. This is a steady and lengthy film that is heavy on mystery over action, so there isn't much material for Polanski to draw upon, but there is plenty of tension to spare, partly because of Polanski's directorial highlights, and largely because the story has plenty of meat to begin with. The dramatic material is a little lacking, and the human factor is further diluted by thin characterization, but as an extensive dramatization of a case to unravel the murder of a powerful and somewhat scorned man, driven by a charismatic lead, this story has potential. A lot of that potential is obscured by the Robert Towne's draggy, uneven and somewhat thin script, which mostly does a great deal of justice to the narrative, through sharp dialogue and sophisticatedly crafted set pieces, in addition to enough rich character drawing to make up just fine for developmental shortcomings. If nothing else makes up for characterization issues, it's the performers, with the lovely and emotionally solid Faye Dunaway stealing the show from time to time as a widow who wants to know about the affairs and fate of her husband, yet is concealing her own dark secrets, while Jack Nicholson, despite playing himself, carries the film with his trademark sparkling charisma, which fits the classic noir lead role like a glove and adds the hint of entertainment value this film needs to reward. The film is so slow and so cold so often that it comes very close to losing its reward value, but its sophistication is respectable, and the inspiration behind its thoughtful storytelling and endearing performances secure the final product as plenty compelling. When the case is closed, conventional aspects as a Roman Polanski film and noir thriller include an underdeveloped lead, while unevenness to a draggy story structure that is made all the more aimless by often dully cold direction most shake your investment, and threaten reward value that is secured by the solid score work and cinematography, generally effective direction, smart writing and charismatic acting that manage to make Roman Polanski's "Chinatown" an overly steady, but reasonably engrossing noir classic. 3/5 - Good
    Cameron J Super Reviewer
  • Jun 05, 2014
    An excellent, classic film that is suspenseful, well-filmed, and features enjoyable twists and turns. Jack Nicholson is terrific--as usual.
    Matthew Samuel M Super Reviewer

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