JUST about everything in CHINATOWN is a touch of a class -- not only this classic film is one of the greatest detective films and one of the best motion pictures of the 1970s, as well as one of the greatest films of all-time, it's also lauded as a perfectly-constructed revisitation of 1940s land of film noir with keen 1970s-culture phenomenon.
Set in 1930s Los Angeles, J.J Gittes (Jack Nicholson) is a private eye who specialises in "matrimonial work". He is hired by a woman named Evelyn Mulwray to tail her husband, Water Department engineer Hollis Mulwray (Darrell Zwerling). During the course of the investigation, Gittes takes several pictures of Hollis in the company of a young blonde and figures the case is closed. But the job seems to be more than meets the eye: Gittes finds out that he's actually being conned by a woman pretending to be the wife of Hollis. He is then discovers that the real Mrs. Mulwray (Faye Dunaway) had nothing to do with hiring him in the first place. The plot gets thicken when Hollis turns up dead and Gittes determines to investigate further, where he is slowly drawn himself into a web of intrigue, that ultimately costs him a lot of trouble including encountering a shady old-age home, corrupt bureaucrats, angry orange farmers, and a dangerous thug (Roman Polanski) along the way. Gittes' trail soon leads him to confront Mulwray's father, Noah Cross (John Huston) who's somehow involves himself in the so-called "future" of Los Angeles by engineering a plot to divert the city's water supply for his own gain.
Nominated for an outstanding 11 Academy Awards including Best Picture (lost to THE GODFATHER, PART II) and Best Director (lost to Francis Ford Coppola in THE GODFATHER, PART II), the film only managed to bag a win for its Best Original Screenplay. Nevertheless, Robert Towne's pitch-perfect script is a gripping detective story that not only successfully re-constructed the somber underpinning of the 1940s film noir and its shady characters, but also conveys a '70s-inflected critique of capitalist and bureaucratic malevolence and the controversial theme of incest with superb result.
All the cast are excellent, including two tour de force performances by Jack Nicholson in a morally-conflicted role as the hard-boiled private eye goes a way too deep for his own good, while Faye Dunaway is a classic, shady femme fatale that her exterior beauty is beyond skin deep.
This is also one of Roman Polanski's finest directing effort ever since his American debut in the seminal horror classic ROSEMARY'S BABY (1968), his brilliant and sensitive direction is meticulous while perfectly recaptures the atmosphere of the 1937 Los Angeles -- from the cars, the clothes, buildings and right down to the barber chairs, CHINATOWN evokes strong memories in term of its tone and the flavor. Needless to say, all the technical attributes are top-notch.
The film's several classic moments including the scene where director Polanski plays as a thug who pokes a switchblade right up into Nicholson's nostril while uttering the infamous line, "You know what happens to nosy fellows? They lose their noses." Another one is Dunaway's nervous remark of "sister...daughter...sister...daughter" routine, and not to forget the very finale where Gittes is forced to return to his old beat in Chinatown, in which he realizes just how impotent he is against the wealthy and depraved Cross. The night after he witnesses Evelyn was shot to death during her attempted car getaway, his old partner tells him with the infamous closing line, "Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown."