The Reel Review


A private investigator specializing in marital infidelity cases in 1930s Los Angeles finds himself caught up in an increasingly complex tale of corruption, deception and murder, in this classic Roman Polanski 1974 neo-noir crime mystery starring Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway.

Jack Nicholson in Chinatown

Loosely based on the real-life Los Angeles water wars of the early 1900s, Chinatown is classic film noir – a stylish, intricately multi-layered tale told from the protagonist’s ever-shifting perspective, with many excellent elements, despite some issues with sluggish pacing. Nicholson is excellent as the charismatic but morally ambiguous detective, paired with a very wooden Dunaway, whose a bit too over the top Acting as the troubled femme fatale is offset by an impressive supporting cast that includes John Huston, Diane Ladd, John Hillerman (Magnum P.I.) and James Hong (Everything Everywhere All at Once).

John Huston and Jack Nicholson in Chinatown

The best parts of Chinatown are a terrifically haunting score from composer Jerry Goldsmith, a clever, intricate story, and stylish, well done period visuals and costuming. At more than two hours, director Roman Polanski would have been well served with quicker pacing and some much-needed editing, but as classic film noir, Chinatown is among the best.


Chinatown received 11 Oscar nominations – among them, for Picture, Actor (Nicholson), Actress (Dunaway), Art Direction, Cinematography and Score – winning only one for Best Original Screenplay.

• Faye Dunaway landed the part after producer Robert Evans cut his wife Ali McGraw from the film when she left him for actor Steve McQueen.  Dunaway’s feud with director Roman Polanski and diva-like behavior on set is legendary.

• Director Roman Polanski also has a cameo in the film, as the knife-wielding criminal who slits the nose of Nicholson’s character.


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