“What did you do in Chinatown?”, Robert Towne asked one of his police friends. “As little as possible”, he answered as a joke. This stayed in Towne’s mind for a while and then he decided to write a story inspired by that line and his love for the 1940′ and ’50s classic film-noirs. The film was released in 1974 and was a huge success, not only at the box office, but it was nominated for eleven Oscars, only winning one though (Towne for his screenplay), since The Godfather Part 2 came out the same year, so nothing besides that was ever going to win the prices. However, Chinatown was still a success, making Towne a legend in the industry, Jack Nicholson finally became a big star, Polanski got an Oscar nod finally and it practically created a genre (or at least popularized it) neo-noir. It has been copied and parodied almost as much as Godfather Part 2 and Towne’s screenplay is considered one of the greatest, if not the greatest, of all time.
Chinatown is my favorite film, actually it’s tied with Terrence Malick’s debut film Badlands which came out a year before Chinatown did. However if you made me choose, pointing a gun at me, my friends, my loved ones and even my little black bunny (by God that’s a huge gun), I would choose Chinatown as my favorite of all time. It’s the film I can see about a hundred times and still find something new in it and appreciate something I didn’t before. It doesn’t “change” everytime I see it, rather it keeps getting better and better, but it doesn’t change. After probably hundreds of times of watching this, this is still the same movie I saw when I first saw this, but somehow I love every single time a little bit more. I remember thinking how “cool” this was when I first saw this and I still think that, it’s just so, lack of a better word, cool. While I adore Badlands and I could say the same things about that film, Chinatown is more “perfect”. There’s a difference between a flawless and a perfect movie, flawless just means there isn’t a single flaw in the movie but a perfect one means there isn’t any flaws and everything about it is amazing. I would call Badlands almost-perfect, but Chinatown is perfect. And it made me start writing, basically my first stories were just carbon-copies of Chinatown, as sad as that sounds.
Chinatown is about J.J “Jake” Gittes, a private investigator hired to find out if Hollis Mulwray has an affair. After finding out he’s the head of the water and power comity and that he has an affair, Mr. Mulwray is found dead by very questionable circumstances. The film then follows Gittes and the widow Evelyn Mulwray (played by Faye Dunaway) as Gittes’ tries to make sense out of everything.
The story is beautifully complex, with a lot of characters and a very dense story. And I’ll admit, the first time I saw this, I was kinda confused, but it was just so good I didn’t mind. The second time I saw this, I wasn’t confused at all, so maybe the first time I missed like a minute or something and it just happened to be a important part, so I don’t know. But the story is amazing, the little twists and turns it throws to you are surprising and intelligent as fuck. We slowly find out more and more about the mystery but the brilliant part about the film is it’s actually not about who killed Hollis, the real mystery is Evelyn. We’re constantly given more and more information about Evelyn and her past, but by the end we realize we don’t know shit. Evelyn is a complex character, she’s a upper-class lady, looks down on people a lot, she’s clearly hiding something, but Gittes isn’t sure what or is she even. There’s a sense of enigma in her, something that Jake just can’t understand, she’s vulnerable and very protective of herself, almost never telling anything personal. She’s difficult to make her talk, so Jake has to solve the pieces of the puzzle and make her talk. Faye Dunaway is fucking great as Evelyn, not only does she look like a lady in the ’30s, but the subtle things she does make the performance masterful. I love the diner scene, right after the infamous nose-cutting scene, and when Evelyn arrives, the waiter comes to ask what can he bring to her and she says “Tom Collins with lime, not lemon”, but she doesn’t say it to the waiter, she says it to Jake for some reason. I never understood why, is it because she looks down on the “not-upper-class-people”? Or does she want Jake to take care of her or something, I don’t know, but that moment always sticks to me. It’s the little subtleties she makes that make the character as great as it is.