The 1974 classic ‘Chinatown’ is not only one of Polanski’s best efforts in filmmaking but in all of American cinema itself. Appearing on the outside to be a thrilling, mysterious noir but on closer inspection gives vital social commentary on the state of American society and hierarchy.
Right from the very outset of the film, private eye detective J.J. Gittes represents the social justice of the film. Haplessly chasing after the affairs of Hollis Mulwray, both Jake and the audience believe the undiscovered corruption of L.A businessman will be exposed for all to see. Much of the film is dedicated to Jake’s hot and cold relationship with Evelyn until the point where Jake now has a vested interest in the affairs of the family. This all too human side to Jake is what makes the final twenty minutes of the film all the more painful for him and the audience. Polanski proves that justice does not exist in modern society and those that profit from their immoral actions only seek to prosper further- however unjustified they may be. The ongoing influences of the Watergate scandal proved that there was no single figure in society that one could afford to trust. The looming figure o
f Noah Cross casts a shadow over Gittes’ ego- refusing to allow him to be smug.
Polanski and writer Towne create the perfect blend of both humour and narrative maturity, making each line of dialogue serve a purpose within the film. Gittes quips are often landing on the deaf ears of the other characters and this serves to prove that he is being left behind in a rapidly moving society. The iconic bandage suggested by Nicholson himself demonstrates that Gittes is a survivor- a fate perhaps more appealing than those of Evelyn and her ‘sistaughter’.
Despite the production team having a ‘mere’ $6million to utilise, at no point during the film is the reality distorted or broken. Sets are true to their 1933 counterparts and Nicholson is unquestionably perfect for the role written for him. The ‘Neo-Noir’ emergence was beginning to rise in the early seventies and this film plays true homage to both the past as well as the present. Gittes himself teases ‘Curly’ that they can’t eat Venetian blinds- perhaps a small acknowledgement of the classics before it. Inspiration has clearly been taken from Lewis’ Gun Crazy during the many scenes in the back of Gittes car. Not only are these appreciations heartfelt, they are paid off with a film produced with such quality from beginning to end.
Viewing this film for the first time requires concentration, in order to follow its various twists and turns- but the eventual payoff for the viewer is more than worth the wait. Backed up with a strong cast both in front and behind of the camera- Polanski’s creation has and will still continue to delight cinema audiences for generations to come.
VERDICT: Quitinsecianly noir and serves as an example for any of those who wish to explore the noir genre.