Chinatown Review

Can you believe it? We’re in the middle of a drought, and the water commissioner drowns. Only in L.A – Morty

In 2013, I watched two masterpieces from the world of cinema. The first was ‘Argo’ directed by Ben Affleck on the Iran crisis and the second was ‘Inception’ directed by Christopher Nolan on subconscious espionage. They both occupy a very special place in my movie watching experience. See, when I was watching these movies, my attention was completely on the screen, undiverted. It was pure classic escapism. For the run time of those movies, I was shoved into a sort-of one dimensional space with just the frames of the movies as my companion. And as the story progressed, every second was an adrenaline rush for me.

I consider the thriller genre as my favourite genre of all time. Why ? Because it has the pure  cinematic essence which I look out for. That essence which in which there are only three components existing in the run time of the movie, the projector – audience – screen. And both Argo and Inception had that thrill which leaves you dumb founded. Now combine the tension, thrill and urgency of both the movies, and you get Roman Polanski’s Chinatown.

Roman Polanski’s Chinatown is about Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) who is hired by the wife of Hollis Mulwray (Darrel Zwerling) the chief engineer of Water and Power Department of Los Angeles to investigate about an affair she suspects her husband of having. Jack investigates and exposes the affair, and the story breaks out the next day in L.A.Times. But, something unexpected happens and Jake gets caught up in a web of lies, deceit, corruption all leading back to Chinatown.

There are four movies which every aspiring film-maker who hopes to make his entry in the thriller genre ought to see. They are Inception, Chinatown, Primer and The Fountain. I love the first two, the same courtesy hasn’t been extended by me towards the latter two. Why ? All four of them have mind-blowing scripts and great performances and function soundly on the technical aspects as well. So what is it that distinguishes the prime two from the latter two ? What is it that makes the difference from being a great movie and an average movie ? It is a 7-letter word that makes all the difference – BALANCE. There are so many things going on in the run-time at the same time in all these movies. But, the first two lets the audience soak it in and comprehend the complex plot. While the latter two expects its audience to be as intelligent as the movie itself. But unfortunately not all of us are Nikola Tesla or Charlie Kauffman. We are plebeians with a normal level of comprehensive skills and intelligence. That is what amazes me the most about Chinatown, the balance.

I haven’t seen a movie in my life which is as complex as Chinatown. But even I, a 14-year old, could comprehend it with ease. Roman Polanski would have made a great teacher I presume. The movie is stylish. The noir effect is mind-numbing. Once again we see the balance being displayed. It is stylish, sexy some may assert with its catching lines and beautiful women and the mythical effect of the cinematography, but never for a second does it go over-the-top. It maintains that beautiful sublime balance between a smart movie and a popcorn fare.

Jack Nicholson is stupendous (as always) in this role. Although my favourite Nicholson performance is his role in The Departed by Scorsese, this comes in at a good, hell-worthy second. After watching this movie I realize, Jack would have made a great James Bond. He has that amazing balance between being that stylish, uber, sexy one-line cracking detective to being a hell serious detective. What Daniel Craig did in the 21st century, Nicholson could have done in the 20th century. He would have given James Bond that redemption that the character deserved. He is unforgettable here and leaves a mark on the mind and senses like none another. Dunaway as Evelyn is fabulous. It is one of those few characters that I have seen in cinema that work like a Rubix Cube. You always sense a shroud of mystery around her character that leaves you digging for more.

As any great movie, it is an inspection of our society. Grim, entangled in lies, deceit, adultery, corruption and what not. As much as it is a thriller, it is a grim morality play. Nicholson here succeeds as a characters because he looks at the story from our viewpoint, not as a personal conflict of any sort, but purely as a mystery. It is when the personal factory kicks in, that he appears confused for the first time, when layers of his smart-ass personality are peeled, and we actually see him transparently, a man befuddled and enraged and more than that, tired at the misery around him. He is as shocked and helpless as we are at the climax, which may upset many I presume for its stark reality. It is not for its depiction of stark reality that we are horrified, it for its willingness to accept that all stories do not have a happy ending. We have always seen movies as a portal towards a mystic world similar to our own, but full of hope. But hope is always present as a dominant force in the moving of the plot. It is shattered just at the right time, when Nicholson is in Chinatown again, which is a symbolic representation of the real world. All the hope is vapourised from Nicholson and he comes in terms with the reality. He accepts that world is a grim place where morality is a thing of the past. He realizes that the only thing he can do is to do as little as possible. And he forgets, because after all, it is Chinatown.

  Rating : 9.4 / 10


Photo Rights : Google Images, Wikipedia

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