Ain't homework painful?
It wasn't that Chinatown was a bad movie. In fact, by whatever textbook I use, Chinatown is a great film. It has an involved plot, interesting characters, steely direction, and on-the-mark acting. It has every possible reason I could have to like this movie, except the X factor. In algebra, X represents the unknown. In cinema, X serves the same basic purpose. X is the combination of all other factors affecting your cinematic enjoyment. X can be good, as in the form of a girlfriend watching I Still Know What You Did Last Summer with you. Or X can be bad, as in the case of Chinatown, where I was incredibly drowsy while I watched the film and the slow pace of the movie didn't help my condition.
Chinatown, for all of its cinematic genius and for all of the incredible scriptwriting that the film has, was unable to truly grab me. It was unable to suck me in, and, if a film can't do that, than you're in trouble.
Chinatown is the Byzantine mystery concerning the death of Water Commissioner Hollis Mulwray. Said death comes shortly after Private Detective J.J. Gittes (Nicholson) uncovers some pictures of Hollis in flagrante delicto with a young woman. Now Gittes was hired by someone other than Hollis' wife (Faye Dunaway), and, when this comes to light and Hollis is found dead in a reservoir, Gittes has some digging to do.
By the textbook, the film is perfect. However, keep in mind that the textbooks on the subject of cinematic perfection were mostly written in admiration of such films as Chinatown and Citizen Kane. Citizen Kane actually was great to watch, where as Chinatown was not.
The reason that I did not enjoy Chinatown probably does not have so much to do with it being a bad film but with it not living up to my expectations. Chinatown is that film that you have heard, all through your life, is great. Yet when one confronts it, one feels disappointed. My advice, quite frankly, is to rent L.A. Confidential instead of watching Chinatown. If, however, you insist upon watching Chinatown, then make sure you expect it to be bad... then you'll enjoy it. If you expect the world, you'll end up like me.
[Editor's note: In the opinion of this critic, Mr. Brundage must be on crack. -CN]
Run time: 130 mins
In Theaters: Thursday 20th June 1974
Box Office Worldwide: $29.2M
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures
Production compaines: Paramount Pictures, Penthouse, Long Road Productions
Contactmusic.com: 4.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 98%
Fresh: 60 Rotten: 1
IMDB: 8.3 / 10
Director: Roman Polanski
Producer: Robert Evans
Screenwriter: Robert Towne
Starring: Jack Nicholson as Jake Gittes, Faye Dunaway as Evelyn Cross Mulwray, John Huston as Noah Cross, Perry Lopez as Lieutenant Lou Escobar, John Hillerman as Russ Yelburton, Darrell Zwerling as Hollis I. Mulwray, Diane Ladd as Ida Sessions, Roy Jenson as Claude Mulvihill, Roman Polanski as Man with Knife, Richard Bakalyan as Detective Loach, Bruce Glover as Duffy, Joe Mantell as Walsh, Nandu Hinds as Sophie, James O'Rear as Lawyer, James Hong as Evelyn's Butler, Beulah Quo as Maid, Jerry Fujikawa as Gardener, Belinda Palmer as Katherine, Roy Roberts as Mayor Bagby, Noble Willingham as Councilman, Elliott Montgomery as Councilman, Rance Howard as Irate Farmer, George Justin as Barber, C.O. Erickson as Customer, Fritzi Burr as Mulwray's Secretary, Charles Knapp as Mortician, Claudio Martinez as Boy on Horseback, Federico Roberto as Cross' Butler, Allan Warnick as Clerk, John Holland as Farmer in the Valley, Jesse Vint as Farmer in the Valley, Burt Young as Curly, Jim Burk as Farmer in the Valley, Denny Arnold as Farmer in the Valley, Elizabeth Harding as Curly's Wife, John Rogers as Mr. Palmer, Cecil Elliott as Emma Dill, Paul Jenkins as Policeman, Lee de Broux as Policeman, Bob Golden as Policeman, Richard Warren as Driver (uncredited)