Roman Polanski directs Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway and John Huston in this neo-noir detective classic where a private detective investigates the drowning of a man during a drought.
A movie that operates in blazing sunlight, the brightness of the California weather conversely hides the corruption and human tragedy that run deep into this mystery. We spy the most important clue early on, acknowledge we have glimpsed something revelatory but it shines too incandescently for us to fully reconcile what it is. That’s masterful crime writing. Robert Towne’s way with words have never found a better story. Only in the closing moments does darkness descend, all hope is lost and the bravado of the individuals we thought were our (anti-)heroes are swept into the gutter. Jack is as sound as a bell here as the sleazy but capable gumshoe… channeling Bogart and keeping his natural razzmatazz one gear under what you would expect from him. When he is not facing mortal danger or immoral turpitude, his JJ Gittes is completely likeable son of a bitch. John Huston steals the show with just a handful of scenes as the demonic embodiment of capitalist ownership. A pessimistic education in not poking your nose into the gravy train, even if you aren’t exactly riding first class. You’ll just end up with a wounded nose or, worse, losing an eye. The American Dream is a nightmare that operates in plain sight, to reveal its dirty secrets is to doom one’s self. Rightly regarded as one of the high points of New American Cinema.
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