A Return to Chinatown

A film that deserves its legendary status, few praises can be poured on Roman Polanksi’s Chinatown (1974) that haven’t been said before. Thanks to some upcoming screenings arranged by our friends at the Coral Gables Art Cinema, I got the chance to sit down and watch Chinatown again, and I can say with confidence that I enjoyed it just as much as I did the first time, if not more. Chinatown is a superb example of the best of a genre, and a story that should be fully enjoyed on the big screen by fans of noir mysteries.

In turn of the century Los Angeles, a mysterious woman (Diane Ladd) hires J. J. “Jake” Gittes (Jack Nicholson), a private investigator, to follow her husband and see if he’s an adulterer. When Gittes tracks the chief engineer of Los Angeles’ Department of Water and Power, Hollis Mulwray (Darrell Zwerling), he unravels a larger conspiracy that threatens to swallow the denizens of Los Angeles.

Tragically, the script of a movie can be one of the most overlooked aspects of the filmmaking process. Too often a film with a promising premise is done disservice with a lackluster script, but such is not the case with Chinatown. The Oscar-winning script written by Robert Towne lays out the phenomenal foundation on which the film’s narrative succeeds in leaps and bounds. Towne uses the conventions of Noir mysteries to great effect, guiding audiences through one of the best stories of the genre.

A great story is little without good actors, and thankfully Chinatown boasts great performances all around. Despite Jack Nicholson being an easily identifiable actor, his performance is so compelling that I can’t see anyone other than Jake Gittes when he’s in frame. Faye Dunaway also gives a great performance, recalling in an interview with Harper’s Bazaar that Chinatown was the best film she ever worked on. These performances combined, it’s hard not to get sucked into the world of Chinatown.

The cinematography and score compliment this dreary mystery excellently. The soundtrack is filled with haunting melodies that fills the viewer with a sense of loneliness as the camera shadows Gittes, a man who himself wades through the underbelly of L.A.’s corruption alone.

If you feel compelled to enjoy a great noir mystery, there’s no excuse not to watch Chinatown. The film is deserving of the many praises it’s been lavished with since its release, and it deserves many more.

Tickets for the Chinatown screenings from September 8th through the 10th at Coral Gables Art Cinema can be found here.

 George Ibarra is a Senior at Florida International University, pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in English with a minor in Sociology, along with Certificates in Exile Studies and Film Studies.