To preface this review, let me just state the fact that generally speaking, this isn't the kind of movie I tend to gravitate towards. That doesn't mean I disliked it. On the contrary, I enjoyed it, and I'm glad I finally sat down to watch it. However, it's another title that I can put on my list of respectable films that I understand, but one watch is enough for me.
We all have particular tastes, and I wouldn't typically lean in the direction of a detective film. It's just that something like 2009's 'Sherlock Holmes' is a bit more up my alley than something like this. I liked this, but I didn't love it like most.
The setting is LA, 1937, and the atmosphere is detective noir, fitting the time very nicely. A private investigator by the name of JJ "Jake" Gittes (Jack Nicholson) specializes in cases that involve cheating spouses, and his latest target is the chief of LA's Department of Water and Power, Hollis Mulwray (Darrell Zwerling), who a woman claiming to be his wife suspects of infidelity.
While tailing Mulwray, he witnesses dealings that include a public meeting to see about constructing a new dam to create additional water supply during a chronic drought. Mulwray refuses to build the dam, pointing out potential issues with the land the dam is to be built on. Continuing his tracking, Gittes witnesses Mulwray meeting with a young woman who isn't his wife. The news of the scandal is published, but this prompts the real Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway) to step in, and soon Gittes is convinced that Mulwray is being framed, and he, himself, is being played.
Evelyn helps Gittes in his investigation of her husband's framing, but the further the investigation goes, the more secrets are uncovered, and the more dangerous things get. The unknown young woman's identity may be the final piece to a mysterious puzzle involving shady business deals, and further unveiling of whether or not Evelyn can be trusted, especially when her father, Noah Cross (John Huston) becomes a part of things.
So, just how admired is this film? Well, it's often considered the "greatest screenplay of all time", which earned it an Oscar win, along with 10 more nominations, often losing to 'The Godfather Part II', which set the bar incredibly high that year. Further to that, it earned 4 Golden Globes for Best Picture, Director, Lead Actor and Original Screenplay and 4 more nominations on top of that. It's seen as some of Polanski's, Nicholson's and Dunaway's best work, and it has its place in the history books of great film, meeting so much of the criteria that makes a film stand out among the rest.
With all of that, along with seeing the film for myself, there's a lot where I can understand people's point of view. Things like the acting, cinematography, stage direction, fitting costumes, atmosphere and vehicles for the era were all things that stood out, and I found it to be a very solid film for what it is, with one of the most heart-wrenching endings I've seen to date (which earned it a lot of points for its bleak reality). Most people know the famous quote "forget it, Jake, it's Chinatown", but you can't quite fully appreciate the context of that without seeing it all unfold for yourself. You will probably like it more than I did, and that's only a matter of taste. It's a very well done film!