Search This Blog

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Forget it , Jake. It's Chinatown.

Don't expect a happy ending
From films like A Clockwork Orange and Brazil we have a film so grounded in reality it shows detectives doing what they actually do, trying to sort out messy divorce cases. It bills itself as a neo-noir film, and I suppose that assertion is right, but again it is such a real film that noir seems the wrong term, because nothing in it is quite so outrageous as the typical situations involved in the genre.  So one of the classics of an era filled with great movies, from the Godfather duology ( When you have such great films as those you ignore any others) to the great bond films of the era, featuring Connery at his best. What makes this unique though, what makes it stand out from the rest?

Well first of all it has Jack Nicholson, a very young Jack Nicholson but still the same damn good actor. Then the supporting cast is great as well, but what really stands out is the script, which according to some sources is "the best ever written." That's fucking high praise. Another thing that the film has going for it is that it knows the genre, the screenwriter, director, and actors all know what kind of movie they're making and seek to subvert it whenever possible, leading to disastrous consequences.  The final thing the film has going for is the ending, but I'll get to that later.

For now we'll look at the opening credits, which are fairly generic in terms of presentation, just overlaid on a bland background, disappointing but what can you do. The film begins with our protagonist, Nicholson, doing what he does best, proving a wife is cheating on a husband, and he is then tasked by another woman to investigate a cheating husband. A surprisingly accurate portrayal of what detectives do. He does this in his signature style, and sure enough before the film is over all hell has broken loose and a conspiracy on a fairly grand scale has been revealed. One of my favorite moments in the early film is when the chief water inspector is revealed to have drowned during a drought.

Appropriate for much foolishness
The irony of it had me laughing at least, and that kept me from too much sadness over the rest of the plot, because the irony of it is just so grand. Now the plot gets quite convoluted after this brief introduction, and there are many twists and turns, and eventually Nicholson decides that calling the police to a woman's house is the best idea, even though he knows it'll probably get him arrested, and it does. On the scale of irony the film rates pretty high, with the detective actually being an incredibly emotional and sociable guy, not the cold as ice badass typically shown in these kinds of films. I'll admit I prefer the Dude as the protagonist for a neo-noir, but Nicholson does it very well, especially in the more serious context.

And the film is very serious, deadly serious as it may be, and makes not real attempts at humor, at least not more than the extremely black kind. So the protagonist is a guy who just can't seem to get a break, but is at least trying to do the right thing, and even doesn't seem to care that much about the money, so we have a good guy at least. The cops seem to be incompetent at best, and actively detrimental at worst, leading directly to the end, and the end result due to their choices, which while somewhat sensible just leave the viewer wondering why. The villain is darkly evil, not of the Snidely Whiplash kind but more of the Ozymandias variety, he wants to leave the world a better place but his methods are worse than some mass murderers.

Now the ending, the most emotional part of most films, and this film is no exception, with nothing after the climax really, just cut to credits. No reassurance, no what happened next, just fade on one of the darker downer endings in cinema at the time. The protagonist accomplishes nothing, the woman he was trying to save dies, the fate of her daughter/sister is unknown, but probably bad, and the villain gets away scot free, and even profited somewhat from the whole encounter. Well Jesus can we get something positive in there? I guess Nicholson got payed a bit, and, um he got laid as well, I guess that's good. Honestly with the ending, there's nothing good, nothing positive, it's just an end, and like all ends if you let them go on for too long, it ends in death.
Here's some puppies
So the ending is depressing, it's a downer, and at that point there's no real recovering, after the ending in all likelihood Jack probably shot himself, but damn it that's why it ends, regardless of now non-ending like the finish is. What's weird about the entire film is it seems like it is a sequel to a previous film with the same name, because it seems like every character refers to Jack's previous experience in Chinatown, and what happened in Chinatown, and how badly it ended in Chinatown. So it honestly seems like this film is discussing events that already happened in a prequel, but the prequel doesn't, and will never, exist. It's a weird feeling for a film like this, but stunningly appropriate to the message.

Life goes on, that's the way it always is and always has been, things happened before but right now, this is what's happening, deal with the present not the past. A fine message I suppose. The way its presented lends to some questioning about how positive it's supposed to be, because honestly with the film's ending you wonder just what it is all supposed to mean, on a cosmic scale. Some of this is due to the director's miserable life, having his pregnant wife killed and he was a Holocaus survivor, that's a hell of a life. Literal Hell there, depending on your view of the underworld.

One final note is that the music is surprisingly sparse, punctuating a few moments with a few chords, or maybe the beginning of a song, but no full pieces, and no vocal songs either. I suppose that's just normal for the genre, but for me at least it's an interesting change of pace. See the film, but expect nothing good in the end, because that's the way it is. Nothing good ever really comes in the final end, but that's okay. Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown.

No comments:

Post a Comment