Chinatown

The Top 63 Marathon, part 5

Data
Title: Chinatown
Year: 1974
Length: 131 minutes
Director: Roman Polanski
Writer: Robert Towne
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Huston
Music: Jerry Goldsmith
Distinctions: Oscar for Best Original Screenplay; Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Nicholson), Best Actress (Dunaway), Best Cinematography, Best Score, Best Art Direction/Set Decoration, Best Costume Design, Best Editing and Best Sound; currently #59 on IMDb’s Top 250

My reaction
Synopsis: a private detective gets involved in a conspiracy involving L.A.’s water supply
How I saw it: on video (rented from Netflix) yesterday
Concept: Good.
Story: Bad. It starts out very promising, as an old school noir detective story, with a cute twist that the detective isn’t very good at dealing with a real mystery. Then, out of nowhere, Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway start making kisses, which is maybe inevitable since they’re opposite-gender leads in a Hollywood film. But from that point on the only thing the movie cares about is their relationship and back stories, and tries very hard to be shocking.
Characters: Indifferent. If it were just a detective story, they would be pretty good characters. But when it tries to be a serious drama about detective story characters, it just seems kind of stupid.
Dialog: Good.
Pacing: Bad.
Cinematography: Good.
Special effects/design: Great.
Acting: Good. It probably seemed a lot better back in the 70s when people didn’t know that Jack Nicholson looks and sounds exactly the same no matter what role he’s playing.
Music: Bad. It got a laugh out of me at least once – probably not intentionally.
Subjective Rating: 5/10 (Indifferent). Maybe I just didn’t understand what they were trying to do? But they go to such great lengths in the first half of the movie to establish a very clear tone and style (that of 1940’s Hollywood mystery), only to completely abandon it later, it’s not surprising that I didn’t get what I expected out of it. In the end it’s cynical and bitter beyond the level any classic noir would get anywhere near, and I have to kind of hate that. Why you got to be so grumpy, Polanski? I know you’re a bad person and all, but why you got to pretend everyone else sucks as much as you do?
Objective Rating: 2.3/4 (Okay).

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