This film from Roman Polanski gave rebirth to film noir, the kind of dark, nightmarish films inhabited my men with guns and smoking cigars and women who seduce them.
After enjoying a golden age through the 1940s, with films like Maltese Falcon, Cat People and Sunset Boulevard, noir went out of fashion till Polanksi created this classic.
A woman hires Jake Gittes, private detective, to find out the identity of her husband's mistress. Jake, played with a mean mouth and a snarled face, by Jack Nicholson does find the identity of the woman who is sleeping with the husband - he is the chief engineer of LA's water and power department - only to realise that he wasn't hired by the engineer's wife at all.
The real wife shows up, the husband is killed and Jake finds himself in middle of the biggest racket in LA. He is not the sort of guy who wouldn't throw a punch if required, but gets more than he gives anyway.
Chinatown, is a place where Jake used to work as a cop. A place where as little as possible is done. Nothing moves. ``Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown'' are the famous lines towards the end of the movie.
It's not hard to understand why this movie is a classic. One reason was that it boldy revived the noir tradition. The naturally lit yet dark places; the even darker minds of troubled, unstable women; men who seem to always have a cigarette hanging from their lips, the movie brings back everything. Also it paints a harsh view of the world. Almost everyone in the movie is mean.
John Houston's multimillionaire villain seems to have very little different from Jake. But look closer and you will see that Jake is actually keen to get the girl or at least save her and put the baddies in jail. But look further and you will find out how hopeless Jake's situation is. The world that he arrogantly and confidently confronts at the beginning of the movie is the same. But Jake has changed. He has learnt his lesson. It's Chinatown. Do as little as possible.