In 1974 Roman Polanski and Robert Towne didn’t just craft a love letter to the film noir genre – they perfected it. Chinatown is full of genre tropes, yet still feeling completely unique and original. This is grimy perverse film noir in color. Jake Gittes is a private investigator in the Phillip Marlowe vein, with slick talk and murky past to boot.
The twisting and turning plot is nothing new for the genre but here not a moment is wasted. Towne’s truly perfect script is brought to life by a plethora of fantastic actors delivering perfect performances. Faye Dunaway smoulders, Gittes snoops around, and corruption hangs in the air like cigarette smoke. The gorgeous, warm glow of Los Angeles hides a seedy underbelly, moral ambiguity, and double cross after double cross. There’s also an air of fatalism permeating throughout, and it is this that truly places Chinatown with the films of the 40’s and 50’s.
Every character has ticks and things to hide, turning them into real people instead of fast-talking cutouts. Betrayal is everywhere and the plot follows accordingly. It’s tragic, it’s flawless. Writing is the unseen hero in cinema and Towne’s screenplay is perhaps the best ever written and Polanski matches his brilliance beat for beat. No moment is wasted, and hard lessons are learned. Forget it Jake, it’s Chinatown.