The 1974 neo-noir classic Chinatown, ranked as the #69 best film ever made disappoints as the characters were difficult to enjoy watching or spending any time with. Jack Nicholson stars as J.J. Gittes, a private detective primarily focused on catching adulterous husbands and wives in the act. Faye Dunaway stars as Evelyn Mulray, a young woman who has recently lost her husband and hires Gittes to find the murderer. Director Roman Polanski weaves a web of lies in this film where the gains are water, and wealth. I was already well aware of the reveal at the end of the film but regardless of that, I found the viewing of this film to be less than what I had expected.
We begin with Nicholson talking to Pauley from the Rocky films. In this instance his name is Curley and he’s upset about his cheating wife. Soon after a woman, claiming to be Evelyn Mulray comes in and wants to hire Gittes to spy on Hollis Mulray and catch him cheating on his wife. After doing so, the news is in the paper and Gittes is introduced to the real Evelyn Mulray who is upset about the story. Hollis Mulray is soon found dead and his wife hire Gittes to discover the true nature of the murder. I won’t get into detail about the entire plot as it’s very complicated. Suffice it to say, Gittes discovers why Mulray was killed and is nearly killed in the process. From then on it’s a race to uncover the true killer and who the other woman truly is.
Going into the film I new the identity of the other woman. Now, whether that is why I didn’t enjoy the film as much as most, I can’t say but I find it hard to believe that this particular twist spoiled the film for me. What I had a difficult time with in the film is that for once, I honestly didn’t like Jack Nicholson’s character. He was a slimy private dick and for me he didn’t show the natural charisma that he does in nearly every other performance I’ve seen him in. I’m not sure if this was due to the character he was playing or if it was the direction by Polanski but I didn’t enjoy this character. That being said, if you don’t enjoy the main character, it’s really tough to enjoy the rest of the film. I did think that John Huston was tremendous as Noah Cross, the father of Evelyn Mulray. He had a certain weight with his role that really gave the film a sense of gravitas.
The character of Evelyn Mulray, played by Faye Dunaway was not as much of a problem for me as Gittes way but I didn’t feel as though Dunaway gave an Oscar worthy performance as she was nominated for Best Actress. The film was nominated for an astounding 11 Oscars, winning for Best Original Screenplay. Looking at the films nominated in 1974 for Best Picture: The Conversation, Lenny, The Godfather II, The Towering Inferno, Chinatown, this is truly a landmark year for film and it’s disappointing for me that I felt like I didn’t get the experience most everyone else did with Chinatown.