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at neglected classics and cult favourites
cast: Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Huston, and Roman Polanski

director: Roman Polanski

125 mins (15) 1974
widescreen 2.35:1
Paramount DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 10+/10
reviewed by Gary Couzens
"A stunningly textured vision of individual naivety and the forms of wider evil and corruption
attendant on the birth of a nation like America" - Allan Hunter and Kenny Mathieson
In 1930s Los Angeles, J.J. Gittes (Jack Nicholson), a private eye specialising in divorce cases, is approached by Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway) to find her missing husband. Gittes is drawn into a case that involves corruption at the highest levels and exposes some very dark secrets...
   Chinatown is quite simply, one of the great American films of the 1970s, which was one of the richest eras in Hollywood history. It repays repeated viewings. As ever, it all starts with the script, by Robert Towne, which won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Back then, Towne was one of the best screenwriters around, before he became a less interesting director and sold out as a writer (Days of Thunder, Mission: Impossible II). Chinatown is his masterpiece, a complex, thematically intricate screenplay that repays close analysis - it's become a staple of screenwriting classes. Polanski's direction is first rate: if you've only seen this film panned-and-scanned on TV, take this chance to see it in its original scope format. Nicholson and Dunaway are excellent, and John Huston turns up as a memorably nasty villain, Evelyn's father Noah Cross. Attention needs to be paid to keep up with the twists and turns of the plot, but there are scenes which have an impact straight away: Polanski turning up in a one-scene role as a hood who gives Nicholson a nose injury, the second-act climax where Evelyn reveals to Gittes precisely what skeletons lurk in her family's cupboard, and the ending. The title functions as metaphor, and only the last scene actually takes place in Chinatown. Polanski rewrote the ending of Towne's original script, and he was right to do so: it's devastating.
   DVD extras: Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack (remixed from the original mono) and a featurette called Inside Chinatown, featuring interviews with Polanski, Towne and producer Robert Evans.
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