Classic curveball detective thriller is re-released
DIRECTED BY Roman Polanski
STARRING Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Huston
Opens April 23, Cert 15, 130 mins
Though it was Polanski’s most acclaimed film before the overrated The Pianist, 1974’s Chinatown?massively reliant on Robert Towne’s seductive script?was never typical of his work. His themes of sexual violence and jealousy were toned down, and he indulged instead in a love-hate nostalgia for the heyday of noir. While juggling the perspectives of Chandleresque fiction, he allowed classy performances to drive the story, his directing deliberate and subdued (albeit with much clinical voyeurism). It’s nonetheless entered the lexicon of LA as represented in movies.
Private eye Jake Gittes (Nicholson) is hired by Evelyn (Dunaway) to tail her husband, who’s escorting a mystery blonde. But Jake’s been set up, and is pushed beyond his depth into a labyrinth of corruption involving crooked bureaucrats, incest and the Water Department’s plans to shaft farmers. The big (bad) daddy figure is Evelyn’s father (regally played, with implicit postmodernism, by Huston). Despite having his nose nicked by an unlikely hoodlum (Polanski), Jake, handcuffed physically and metaphorically, can’t make things right. He fatalistically accepts that, for some, immorality’s a state of mind?it’s “Chinatown”.
Polanski himself deemed this a hack job, done to prove to producer Robert Evans he was back on track after the Manson murders and Macbeth. Most film-lovers would beg to differ.