DIRECTOR: Roman Polanski
May contain spoilers!
Considered to be a masterpiece of not only 70’s cinema, but Cinema on the whole, Chinatown, Roman Polanski’s last film to be made in the U.S., is just that. Clearly serving as inspiration for what I consider to be a true and my film, L.A. Confidential (1997), even sharing the same composer, the late Jerry Goldsmith, this noir classic is a solidly written and elegantly directed interpretation of the California Water Wars, with William Mulholland being recast here as Noah (geddit?) Cross (John Huston).
The story is complex, layered and psychological, with more than a one viewing necessary to fully interpret and maybe even fully understand, but in the mean time, as with L.A. Confidential, you can just lap up the sharp script and the smooth characters as the final and disturbing revelations unfold.
Sex, rape, violence and intrigue dominate this tale of how water can be withheld from so many, as few men managed to monopolise the industry at the cost of farms and people, creating droughts by redirecting rivers and building dams in order to make millions, all this in the 1937 setting, where $10 million was a fortune.
Jack Nicholson is perfect in a role which could easily have been cast with Humphrey Bogart in his heyday, as is Faye Dunaway but John Huston’s classic, calculating a regal villain is underplayed to perfection, menacing yet warm without the cliché’s, in fact the same can be said for must of the cast in this regard, except for the general clichés of the noir genre.
The film is pitched perfectly, intelligent, deep and topical. The building of dams and stealing water is still very much an issue of today only it is not talked about nearly enough. But the detail of Robert Townes screenplay is wonderful, with layers of foreshadowing, dialogue developed for and by Jack Nicholson’s expert delivery and Polanski’s symbolism laden direction. The film is a case in its own right, just as Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige (2006) is a magic trick about magic tricks.
But the legacy is clear. Almost from the opening scene, this is as much Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) as anything else, yeah seriously and that explains why that film is so good too, as well as the more obvious L.A. Confidential. Two Neo-noir greats and it all starts here, in 1974.
A true masterpiece and a template of how to revisit film noir.