Let me get this out of the way first. I don’t like Roman Polanski. I think he is a scum bucket. I think it shows a ridiculous double standard that Hollywood continues to embrace and stand up for a child rapist while essentially shunning and blacklisting someone like Mel Gibson. Gibson deserves and deserved punishment for his crazed behavior and remarks, but he has never done anything on the level of Polanski and it shows how twisted and backward the movie industry is in how they have glossed over Polanski’s behavior.
Okay, that’s out of the way. Now let me say this, Polanski is a truly talented filmmaker. The only other film of his I had seen before this was the emotionally stunning “The Pianist.” That holocaust drama ranks up there with “Schindler’s List” as one of the most gripping and moving films about that horrible time in history. “Chinatown” is a 1974 film in the “film noir” tradition. In fact, the story plays out in an incredibly similar emotive fashion to the film “Double Indemnity” which is a classic example of the film noir genre. The film was nominated for eleven Academy Awards and won for “Best Original Screenplay.”
Should this film be considered a classic? The wiki article cited about calls this film “neo-noir” and I think it succeeds admirably as an example of that. I will say this though, I’m very glad I watched “Double Indemnity” before this film so that I would have a good frame of reference for classic film noir. This film is chock full of strong performances with Jack Nicholson doing a great job as the private investigator Jake Gittes. Faye Dunaway also turns in a great performance that will keep you guessing until the very end as to what her role is in the story. The story itself is a lot of fun to watch unfold. It is set in 1937 and Polanski and his crew did a great job of capturing the feel of that time. Also, I found the soundtrack to be particularly good. It has a sadness to it from the very beginning of the film and hints at the inevitably tragic ending that is a fixture of the noir genre. So yes, I think this film deserves the label classic. It is well acted, directed, and very technically good.
Would I own this film? Probably not. It’s not because it is not a fine film, it’s because film noir just is not one of my favorite genres. I appreciate the genre and style of the films. I appreciate the stories of the films. They just aren’t films that I really find myself wanting to rewatch. “Chinatown” is a fine and entertaining piece of cinema. I think it is deserving of all the accolades, but it’s just not my favorite type of film. That said, if you enjoy film noir and have not seen this film, you are missing out. I think anyone who enjoys that style of filmmaking would find much to like about “Chinatown.”