Movie Review: “Chinatown”


Dev Jaiswal

Robert Towne's award-winning film Chinatown stars Jack Nicholson as Jake Gittes and Faye Dunaway as Evelyn Mulwray.

Dev Jaiswal, Assistant Opinion Editor

“Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.”

So concludes Robert Towne’s 1974 film noir classic “Chinatown,” a movie that is everything but forgettable. “Chinatown” is a riveting mystery film that kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time I watched private investigator Jake Gittes traverse the intriguing landscape of a thirsty Los Angeles.

Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.”

— Lawrence Walsh

I was exposed to “Chinatown” during the film noir segment of Dr. Easterling’s Introduction to American Film class. Dr. E’s Film class is a broad survey of different genres of American film and their importance. Other film noir films we have watched in Film class include “Casablanca,” “Maltese Falcon,” and later “Moonlight.”

It’s hard to talk about any moment of “Chinatown”  without feeling that I’m spoiling the experience, but I’ll try to keep it simple. Starring Jack Nicholson as Jake Gittes and Faye Dunaway as Evelyn Mulwray, “Chinatown” opens with Gittes being hired by Mulwray. Mulwray wishes for Gittes to investigate her suspicion that her husband, chief engineer of the L.A. Water Department, Hollis Mulwray,  is having an affair. Jake proceeds with this task, obtaining photographs of Hollis interacting with a young woman, finding during the process that numerous buckets of water that L.A. residents could drink are being poured out into the gutter.

What one would expect to happen after this revelation would be a wild goose-chase to find the perpetrator of the person(s) pouring out the water. While the film certainly does address this issue, later portions of the movie reveal that the underlying scheme of the plot ultimately is based on the identity of the young woman with Hollis Mulwray.

“Chinatown”  constantly kept me thinking. A seemingly simple premise morphs into a complex tale of greed and murder. These different qualities of the story are revealed in a way that builds mystery, and as I watched, I found myself constantly trying to build an argument to support who I thought was pouring out the water, and later, how the young woman has any relation to the story (besides the alleged affair).  I repeatedly found the movie refuting my opinions as it continued, forcing me to rethink my position. In this way, “Chinatown” kept me on my feet like few other movies I’ve seen.

Critics have very positive feelings about “Chinatown.” The film earned five times more than its budget price and received 11 Academy Award nominations. I wholeheartedly share this sentiment. The film is also riddled with small details that contribute greatly to the overarching story, and it’s these details combined with the surprise ending that make me want to watch this movie over again now that I know what to look for. “Chinatown”  definitely goes down as one of the best movies I have ever watched, and I won’t forget it anytime soon.