Chinatown (1974) - Rotten Tomatoes

Chinatown (1974)

Chinatown (1974)

TOMATOMETER

AUDIENCE SCORE

Critic 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.

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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 (63) | Top Critics (8)

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 | Rating: 2.5/4 | 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.

March 27, 2009 | Full Review…
Top 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…

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

February 9, 2006 | Rating: 5.5/6 | Full Review…
Top 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…

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 | Rating: 5/5

Audience Reviews for Chinatown

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 Walker
Mark Walker

Super Reviewer

½

An excellent screenplay and a willing crew are all up to task of peeling back the layers of a society not as innocent as it likes to pretend. Nicholson is a detective who accepts that there might be some corruption in the world but decides to limit the avalanche against his better judgment. And although released in the mid70s the idea expressed is that this crap has been going on for awhile. Required viewing for those who appreciate social commentary with their entertainment.

Kevin M. Williams
Kevin M. Williams

Super Reviewer

An extremely complex film noir full of mystery and intelligent twists that keep us always guessing and trying to put together the pieces of the puzzle, while its brilliant script is only matched by Polanski's excellent direction and Jack Nicholson's nuanced performance.

Carlos Magalhães
Carlos Magalhães

Super Reviewer

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