Review: Chinatown

Dan Leigh 16 January 2013

Roman Polanski’s Chinatown is brilliant from the start, but a masterpiece by the end and only improves as you lovingly digest it for days afterwards, so a repeat viewing could not be more rewarding. Even if you have already had the pleasure of enjoying Jack Nicholson’s tragic detective, Faye Dunaway’s mysteriously cinematic damsel, Robert Towne’s intricate script and Polanski’s masterful vision, I would seriously urge you to catch this on re-release. A packed BFI on London’s South Bank seemed to agree.

On a repeat viewing so many incredible details become more apparent, especially John Huston’s terrifyingly charming water mogul Noah Cross, who utters perhaps the most chilling line in the picture (the context of which I will refrain from elaborating for obvious reasons for those who have already seen it!), “most people never have to face the fact that at the right time and the right place, they’re capable of anything”. There is also plenty of scope for indulging your inner critical nerd: Chinatown’s relationship with the film noir genre is intriguing, particularly with regard to the supposed inversion of expectation that surrounds Dunaway’s enigmatic Evelyn, whilst one critic has beautifully described the film as “a cynical variation on the book of Genesis”!

If you are still unconvinced, the American Film Institute placed Chinatown 21st on their list of 100 greatest movies of all time in 2007, whilst the iconic line “forget it, Jake, it’s Chinatown” made it to 74th place on their list of the 100 greatest movie quotations.

Dan Leigh