It’s frequently referred to as one of the great Jack Nicholson roles. Though mainly I know of the film because Homer Simpson once referenced it.
Now that I have:
Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) is a private eye who’s a little bored with his regular routine of catching spouses cheating on each other. He yearns for something different, something exciting. But then Evelyn Mulwray shows up and asks him to find out if her husband is cheating on her.
So what the heck, he does.
He follows Evelyn’s husband, Hollis, who is in charge of all the water in California or something like that. I think he finds the water? Or he makes it? He’s like a combination of Aquaman, Moses, and a nerdy guy.
Regardless, Jake follows him all over the dang place. He follows him to reservoirs, he follows him on romantic boat rides, he follows him to the ocean at night where Hollis just likes to be creepy. Jake eventually grows tired of waiting for Hollis to finish up his business with the Pacific and does my favorite part of the whole movie. Jake takes a pocket watch, sets its time, and leaves it right behind one of Hollis’s car tires. The next day Jake returns to retrieve the clock which has stopped on the time Hollis drove away. So clever!
Wait, aren’t pocket watches expensive? That’s a pretty expensive way to be lazy. Jake is probably the guy who turns the AC down super low so he can sleep with his heavy comforter during the summer.
(Also, yeah! THAT was my favorite part. What does that tell you about Chinatown?)
Anyway, Jake gets pictures of Hollis hanging out with a young lady. This causes a scandal in the news. Hollis’ water-controlling days might be over! Jake figures his business with the Mulwray family is over. BUUUT… turns out the lady who hired Jake wasn’t actually Hollis’ wife Evelyn, and the real Evelyn is ticked off!
Then Hollis dies. Then there’s a lot of talk about water. Water politics! Water treason! Water double-crosses! Water secrets!
Jake, wanting to know more about the water secrets, visits the real Evelyn and establishes a personal connection with her so it doesn’t feel as wrong when he eventually has sex with her in the film. Jake also notices something shiny at the bottom of her garden’s pond. He ignores it, but he makes a mental note to return to it later in order to solve the murder.Anyway, around this point I had trouble paying attention to the film. It was pretty boring. Let’s just say Jake has a few run in’s with the law, a dude cuts his nose real like jerk, you almost see a dead guy’s penis, the lady who was pretending to be Evelyn turns up dead, Jake and the real Evelyn have sex, we learn the young lady Hollis was hanging out with was Evelyn’s daughter, we learn Evelyn’s father Noah Cross wants the daughter for himself. Why? Because she’s his daughter too.
Yeah… let that “Eww” sink in.
The film ends with Cross revealed as Hollis’s murderer. Why? Something about water. I. Don’t. Know.Cross wants his incest-daughter back but Evelyn won’t let him. Evelyn drives away with her daughter and the cops shoot at her because… aw man I don’t know. Seriously, at this point in the film nothing is making any sense to me. The cops just open fire on this slowly driving away car in the middle of a neighborhood. I guess they just wanted to feel productive?
Well, they manage to accomplish something (Shoot Evelyn in the face) and Cross takes away his screaming incest-daughter. The cops feel like super jerks and let Jake and his friends go. I don’t even remember why they had them caught in the first place.
Probably something about water.
The movie ends with an innocent lady shot by the police and a incestuous child rapist and murderer getting away scott-free.
…Child ra– …Hey wait a minute!
The Verdict:I’m not going to lie to you, I was unaware this was a Roman Polanski movie until his name came up during the credits. From that second on, I approached Chinatown with the expectations of “SO GOOD, it excuses you from the rape of a 13 year old girl”.
It did not meet those expectations.
I mentioned being bored in the movie’s description and I’m going to again right here. I WAS BORED. At one exhausted point I thought to myself “Surely, I must be nearly the end of this movie about water politics”. I was only half way through the film.
Viewing moments like that (as well as the raping of a 13 year old girl) kills movie experiences for me.
For a film trying to be noir, there aren’t many noir things about Chinatown. Jake isn’t hurting for money. Most of the film takes place during sunny California days. Jake doesn’t take many lumps during the film. The worst thing that happens to him is the nose thing, but it’s stitched up for the rest of the movie. Also he sleeps with a sexually abused woman, then hits her a couple times, and is still considered the “good guy”. So he gets off pretty easy for a noir hero.Nicholson does great in his role, he adds a cockiness to Jake’s constant ignorance which is somehow endearing. Jake never knows what’s going on but he manages to smile and B.S. his way through the movie. Yet he’s a character who doesn’t manage to hold an entire film on his shoulders. Jake would have been more interesting as a member of an entourage, rather the lone hero.
Other than that, they seriously say “It’s Chinatown” a lot in this movie. Each time, they totally lost the chance to shrug up their shoulders and look into the camera. That’s a missed opportunity. That’s bad directing Mr. Polanski.
So, go to jail already.