For Reel

Chinatown (1974)
July 24, 2016, 1:17 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Roman Polanski
5 Stars
ChinatownThe title sequence of Chinatown does much to remark on its genre—with sepia tones, a blurred iris, and a vintage font, it immediately recalls the noirs of yesteryear (it is jarring to see names like Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway in this context). It also begins an elaborate game of misdirection and sets the stage for the film’s bitter reveals. Just as many noirs have a dependable moral compass to route for, Nicholson’s Jake Gittes is a man with a haunted past facing a world of corruption. History tells us that not only will he come to the bottom of the mystery at hand, but his past will be redeemed. But Robert Towne’s screenplay keeps unveiling elaborate levels of deceit, and the political and murderous scandals make way for twists more personal, the sort that recontextualize each character’s relationship with one another. In the end, it is a devastating, castrating film about powerlessness, where good intentions come up against corruption and ultimately fall short. It is not merely a fatalistic tale, however. These characters are wrought to have lived many lives already (nearly everyone has a past that is regularly alluded to but never explicitly spelled out), and it is clear that their lives will continue into a future that has increasingly become uncertain and dire. Chinatown is not just a film about failure, but about how one copes and pushes forward despite a lifetime of it.

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