It is a shame that Jack Nicholson is done acting. Sure, many know him from his "Crazy Jack" persona, but he was much more than that. Nicholson was a legend, a god among actors. I believe "Chinatown" is one of his biggest highlights, something that proved how special he was as a performer. Not only that, the movie itself is impeccably engaging, richly imagined and lovingly addicting. It is the grandest example of a neo-noir and it wears that as a badge of honor.
Nicholson plays J.J. Gittes, a private eye who investigates pretty much anything. He is asked to shadow Hollis Mulwray for possible infidelity. It turns out to be true, and Gittes solves the case and goes on about it business. The person who hired Gittes to shadow Mulwray claimed to be his wife Evelyn. But a few days later, the real Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunway) appears and gives Gittes a lawsuit. This just leads Gittes down a road of events dealing in political corruption, murder, corruption and one of the craziest endings to film ever. Oh, and also along the way, Nicholson's character gets his nose cut open, and wears an obscene bandage nearly the entire movie.
The film's twists and turns are well handled and fit the context very well. Never does "Chinatown" feel like several different movies. The twists are not just production notes cobbled together. It feels real, it feels vital to the story. I think fans of film noir will be flabbergasted by the choices made in this script and be engaged the entire running time.
Like I said before, this is not a typical Jack Nicholson performance. It is well reserved, well-utilized, and well timed. Sure, there are a couple of times when we see the crazy come out, but those moments are far and in between. There are countless reasons why Nicholson was so well-respected in Hollywood even though he was a crazy guy onscreen, the guy had raw talent. This shows a inspiring portrait of Nicholson at his best. It is complimented by a wonderful cast that includes Faye Dunway, John Huston, Perry Lopez, Diane Ladd, John Hillerman, and Roman Polanski. It is a great supporting cast and each of their characters is instantly iconic.
I am being secretive again this week. Because "Chinatown" is a movie that is going to work better for you if you know less. There is a gut-wrenching mystery hidden within the frames of this classic film, and I think you'll be flattened by how it unravels. Guided by a great Nicholson performance, "Chinatown" has everything we love from the film noir genre.