Friday, June 20, 2014
50 Days 50 Films - #23 "Chinatown" (Roman Polanski)
What we don't tend to have anymore are simple, classic noirs that are, at heart, good stories told well.
This is why Polanski's almost religiously classicist approach in 1974's "Chinatown" is such a breath of fresh air. Certainly, it's a product of its era and the New Hollywood in many ways, and one could argue that the casting of John Huston — director of such classic noirs as "The Maltese Falcon" (1941) and "The Asphalt Jungle" (1950) — as central villain Noah Cross is a postmodern nod to the genre's past. But the fact is Huston is simply GREAT in the role — oily and evil and seductive in a way that is almost primally repellant — that whatever film-cineaste baggage we bring to the performance quickly falls away.
Everyone is great in this. Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway have never been better, either before or since.
"Chinatown" was penned by Robert Towne ("The Last Detail," "Shampoo"), one of the all-time screenwriting greats, and this film still stands as his masterpiece. Famously, he clashed with Polanski over the film's vision, but somehow that tension managed to distill what has been acknowledged as Towne's unwieldy tome (rumored at one point to be nearly 300 pages long) into a lean, mean, frighteningly nasty piece of work.
I don't have a lot more to say about it, because we all know how great it is. So I'll just leave it with this quote from Roger Ebert's review:
"Godard once said that the only way to review a movie is to make another movie, and maybe that’s what Polanski has done here. He’s made a perceptive, loving comment on a kind of movie and a time in the nation’s history that are both long past. 'Chinatown' is almost a lesson on how to experience this kind of movie."