“You’ve got a nasty reputation Mr. Gittes, I like that.” Noah Cross
The simple story of Private Investigator J.J Gittes (Jack Nicholson) hired by Evelyn Mulwray to spy on her husband, who she believes to be having an affair. One thing’s for sure though, nothing is simple in Chinatown.
And so unravels a twisted mystery full of deceit, corruption and even murder. Gittes discovers that the real Mrs. Mulwray (Faye Dunaway) has nothing to do with the hiring for any investigation into her husband’s private affairs. After Hollis Mulwray turns up dead – his body found at a local reservoir – Gittes decides to investigate further, knowing full well that a conspiracy is unfolding right before his eyes. Just when he thinks he’s getting to the bottom of the investigation something else pops up to steer him away from his probable resolution. What he uncovers along the way threatens not only his business but his life.
Set beautifully against the backdrop of 1930’s Los Angeles, Roman Polanski’s masterpiece revisions the film-noir genre for a new generation. Everything about this movie is classic noir; the location, the music, the hard nosed Detectives, the investigation that spirals out of control, and most importantly the woman scorned. It’s all there.
Nicholson is perfect as the successful smart mouthed P.I. living by his own rules in a town that has fashioned his very existence. Touted as his best role ever (I disagree, R.P. McMurphy takes that trophy for me) or at the very least one of his most memorable, Nicholson incapulates his role with such vigour and authenticity (as he so often did with nearly every role during the 70’s) that you can’t help cheering his every move. He’s not the perfect human being by a long shot but his heart is true and he has a special devotion to his job and his client that somehow he becomes a kind of superhero. The rest of the cast do their job well too, particularly John Huston, who masterfully plays Noah Cross (Dunaway’s father) and all round bad guy with utter perfection.
It’s not without it faults though. At times it tiptoes along at a snail’s pace and at just over two hours long (it feels a lot longer) many who are unfamiliar with the noir genre may not be willing to see it out to its conclusion. But the performances and the writing prevail.
Every single screenplay book I’ve ever read will always mention this as one of the greatest scripts even written. The way the characters are introduced and the manner in which the plot unfolds is integral to any successful script and Robert Towne certainly follows all the rules here and even invents some of his own. Filled with countless memorable scenes – Gittes getting his nose sliced is surely one of the most iconic scenes in history – and pushed along with a classic, albeit sometimes cliche score, Polanski manages to capture something truly unforgettable worthy of all the awards it received.
Gavin Logan – Follow me on Twitter