Monday, May 16, 2016

AFI Top 100, #19: "Chinatown" (1974)

Movie stats:
Released 1974 (USA)
American, in English (tiny amounts of non-translated Spanish & Cantonese)
Director - Roman Polanski
Stars - Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway

Plot Summary:
When a woman hires private investigator J.J. Gittes (Nicholson) to tail her husband, who she suspects is cheating, he finds himself pulled into a much deeper, and more dangerous, mystery. Dunaway co-stars as Evelyn Mulwray.

Minor blue language; violence; gore; heavily implied sexy times; very brief male nudity (penis, blink and you’ll hopefully miss it); brief female nudity (breasts).

Bad Stuff:
Well, now that I’ve seen her in three of these AFI movies, I think it’s safe to say that I’m not a fan of Faye Dunaway. I find her flat and wooden.

Thumbs down on the horn-laden soundtrack.

The ending was a hot mess. After the laying all the groundwork for a fine mystery, the resolution seemed both rushed and unfinished.

Good Stuff:
The mystery was good. It kept me guessing the whole film. It seemed like a thinking person’s mystery, involving land and water rights. It wasn’t simple.

While this AFI project has convinced me that I don’t like Dunaway, it’s also convinced me that I do like Nicholson. I spent most of my life without having seen his earlier work, so I’ve always thought he was one-note. I’ve really enjoyed this exploration of some of his earlier roles. It’s nice to see that he used to have range. I liked him in this.

The dialogue had a realistic feel - stumbling over words, mis-speaking, etc. - that I liked.

The Verdict:
This had all the hallmarks of a movie I wasn’t going to like: film noir (the only film noir I truly love is “LA Confidential”), 70s film, Nicholson, Dunaway, Polanski. I popped it in thinking to myself, “Well, let’s get this over with.” It was a pleasant surprise to discover that it’s actually good. Unlike a lot of film noir, the mystery was solid, the plot twists are believable and easy to follow, and it didn’t induce any reflexive eye rolling in me. Also, apart from Dunaway (and Belinda Palmer as Katherine, who thankfully isn’t in it very much), the acting was really good. I doubt I’ll ever watch it again, since I think it’ll lose something with the mystery all out in the open, but for a one-time watch, it was solid.

I give it 4 stars.


Patricia said...

Wow! A 4-star find you haven't seen before. Do you think you will have any more of those in this project?

balyien said...

I know I do! ;)

If my projects have taught me anything, it's to give films a chance, whether I think I'll like them or not.