“(…)Similar to a case that he never fully perceived or understood years earlier when he was a cop in LA’s Chinatown [symbolic of the city of Los Angeles], he is doomed to repeat history (“You may think you know what you’re dealing with, but believe me, you don’t”, voiced by the film’s villain played by legendary director John Huston) – as a powerless, hard-boiled detective, he again brings tragedy to a woman he wants to help. [The story continued in a complex, poorly-received sequel many years later –The Two Jakes (1990) – that required considerable knowledge of the earlier film in order to be comprehensible. It also starred Nicholson as the private detective in 1948 Los Angeles (and he also served as the film’s director – in his debut film). The sequel, when viewed with the original film, provides the viewer with a 267-minute film noir epic. A third film to complete a trilogy, named Cloverleaf (a reference to LA’s freeway system and its massive interchanges – with its notorious air pollution), was shelved when The Two Jakes failed at the box-office. Its title was referenced in Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) as the evil Doom’s giant corporation with a quasi-swastika as its logo.]
The film’s claustrophobic, cyclical, bleak mood surrounding the heroic quest of the detective struck a responsive chord after the scandalous Watergate era of the early 1970s. The film’s two puzzling mysteries and tragedies – family-related and water-related – are beautifully interwoven together. The water-rights scandal at the heart of the film expresses how ecological rape of the land has occurred in outrageous land-development schemes that redirect the water’s flow. It reminds viewers that the days of abundant natural resources (and life-giving water that turns a forbidden wilderness into a plentiful garden) are past – the land has become barren due to the selfish manipulations of rich and powerful businessmen.
There were many accolades for this stunning film, including eleven Academy Award nominations, although only one took the Oscar home, Best Original Screenplay for Robert Towne’s superb work (the losses were partly attributed to the intense competition from Coppola’s The Godfather, Part II (1974)). An uncredited Nicholson wrote his own dialogue, and collaborated on the famous ending with Polanski a few days before the scene was shot. [Chinatown won four of its seven nominations at the 32nd Annual Golden Globes ceremony: it defeated Coppola’s film for the Best Picture-Drama award; Polanski won the Best Director award; Jack Nicholson won the Best Actor in a Leading Role-Drama award; and Robert Towne won the Best Screenplay honor.] (…)
From Film Site