This is a remarkable film, possibly the best work of it’s director, Polanski, it’s leading actor, Nicholson, and it’s screenwriter, Towne. The film is bathed in sun-drenched landscapes suggesting dehydration and water scarcity. This film works at leisurely
pace and is a loving recreation of 30s noir.Jake Gittes is a well-dressed private eye
who has a dark past as a Chinatown cop he’d rather not talk about. As played by
Nicholson he is a cynical, cool operator with a hint of vulnerability and makes enough to hire two co-workers. He works in the field of divorce and adultery. The title
is more about a state of mind: everybody does as little as possible and if you help people you make sure you hurt them. But the film ends in Chinatown. The main subject is water shortages and the corrupt diversion of water supplies from the LA
populace to irrigate orange groves. There is also land theft going on: bought cheaply and sold at enormously inflated prices. Against this public corruption there is a story
of incest and sexual scandal, all coming together in the figure of Noah Cross(Huston)
played malevolently with great swaggering malice. He “owns” the future and pulls all the strings, leading to murder of Hollis Mulwray, his business partner and chief engineer of the LA Water Department . Hollis’s wife, Evelyn(Dunnaway), sets Gittes
on the trail of what happened. She is a very alluring femme fatale with many secrets
which she slowly reveals to Gittes. She is Cross’s daughter and she seems to know
about the young woman her husband was supposed to be having an affair with. We
see Nicholson change from a dapper,witty , charming teller of jokes to a man who
gets in over his head and becomes bloodied,bowed but doggedly determined to
unravel the whole sorry mess.
The cinematography is excellent with low horizon wide screen vistas of muted colours and radiant light. We are between the desert and the sea with low slung
architecture and nothing to blot out the sunlight but shadow.The music is jagged and
drawn out. This is Polanski’s first Hollywood film since the murder of his wife
Sharon Tate in 1969. It was also with the forthcoming sex trial going to be his last.
We see what his future might have been. He also imbues the film with Greek Tragedy
giving it the darkest(and best) ending possible,taking your breath away. He plays a mean cameo role as the midget who slices Nicholson’s nose. Faye Dunnaway is
remarkable in the role of a patrician lady with a dark vulnerability. Nicholson never
acted better, with ‘The Passenger’ and ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ ahead.
The script is lean, tight and full of witty lines(it went on to win Oscar for screenplay).
This is real noir without one cliché and real backbone and bite. Polanski’s personal
tragedies have a great bearing on the crushing despondency of the outcome."