Chinatown is a 1974 film directed by Roman Polanski, also known for ‘The Pianist’ and ‘Rosemary’s Baby’, and is written by Robert Towne, who also wrote ‘Mission: Impossible 1 and 2’. This film stars Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway and John Huston.
The story follows J.J. Gittes and his associates when they are hired by the wife of a chief executive of a water company because she accuses him of cheating. This all goes wrong very quickly when it’s revealed the person who hired them wasn’t the real wife and the husband is found dead the next day. There is this conspiracy about the water being wasted which is the cause of the husband’s death as he found out something he shouldn’t have. A lot is then uncovered about different people and what is going on. It’s interesting to see how all the pieces fall into place.
Jack Nicholson plays the cocky, kind hearted private detective, J. J. Gittes, who can be very violent when he needs to be. He is caught up in all this and there is no way he’s going to drop the case. This character is likeable in parts, then hated by the audience in other parts. He is introduced as a good-tempered, jokey kind of guy but when things begin to get rough, he becomes more resilient and does anything to get the answers he wants, even if that means beating up a woman.
Jack Nicholson is a master of anger, he knows how to control it and knows when to use it. I’ll be talking about Chinatown and how Nicholson controls and uses anger in this film, but he has a whole array of films where he uses different types of anger. In Chinatown, he understands what type of character he is playing so he uses anger when he doesn’t get what he wants.
In a scene that’s hard to watch, Gittes thinks he has a good, and truthful, story of how everything happened. But when Evelyn says he’s wrong, Gittes loses it. Jack keeps his anger level to a minimum before the slap, only raising his voice a little to entice Evelyn in telling him the truth. She keeps refusing, so his anger rises and grabs her. He realises what he’s done, and calms himself, telling her what happened to her husband, blaming the murder on her.
When she lies again, he slaps her. , He doesn’t hold back, his anger is full-on, and if he doesn’t hear what he wants to hear, he will slap again. The next couple of seconds are hard to watch because Gittes doesn’t understand yet and even though she’s telling him the truth, he won’t stop. When he realises she was telling the truth and he doesn’t apologise for what he just did, it adds another layer to his character – he doesn’t want to be wrong and when he is, he hides the fact he was by moving on quickly.
Faye Dunaway plays the secretive and seductive widow, Evelyn Murray. From the moment you meet her, it feels like she’s hiding something. She doesn’t like to have long conversations as she’s afraid she might reveal something she shouldn’t. When she’s talking to Gittes, who can see right through her lies, she gets anxious and shakes. To calm herself, she smokes, a lot, and she’s sometimes so panicked, she forgets she already had one lit. You could take from this that she’s so overwhelmed with her husband’s death she gets confused, but she doesn’t show much emotion when learning of his death.
The screenplay was written by Robert Towne who perfectly captures the stereotypical detective, with their distinct accents and overall tone. The conversations between people get to the point, nothing they say is filler – it’s important to the case or foreshadowing something later on.
This film has a ‘kick in the stomach’ ending that leaves you disgusted and sad, and I won’t spoil it because it’s a lot more shocking if you don’t know about it. It also has one of the most famous quotes in film, ‘Forget it Jake, It’s Chinatown’, which has since been used in other films and TV programmes.
With everything this film has to offer, I’ll be taking inspiration from it’s writing, with the way the lines are structured and spoken, and how every line is necessary to the plot and the growth of characters. This film is a classic, with shocking and hard to watch scenes that leave you distressed and uncomfortable. The stereotypical detective role is given time and care to establish, and Jack Nicholson nails it.