Reviewed by: Stephen Carty

"A dense and dark storyline that is compelling in and of itself, rather than simply ladelling on lots of game-changing twists."

Who says film noir has to be shot in black and white? Okay, so ‘noir’ means black, but who cares? Despite shooting in colour, Roman Polanski completely captures the ominous and palpable atmosphere so often prevalent in the usually-monochromatic genre. Together with writer Robert Towne and producer Robert Evans, the director serves up all the shadowy film style’s usual touchstones: the femme fatale, the rich man, the paranoia, the hard-boiled dialogue and the ever-unfolding plot. At times it’s as though we’re reading a Raymond Chandler novel or watching a Technicolor Humphrey Bogart flick.

When a woman identifying herself as Mrs Evelyn Mulwray (Diane Ladd) walks into private investigator Jake 'JJ' Gittes' (Jack Nicholson) office, he begins investigating her husband Hollis - the chief engineer of water and power. However, when the real Mrs Mulwray (Faye Dunaway) contacts him, Jake soon finds himself embroiled in a conspiracy involving the city's ongoing drought.

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The story requires plenty of concentration and may prove too dry (wink, wink) for some modern audiences. But for the patient viewer there’s plenty to be admired in Towne’s Oscar-winning script, a dense and dark storyline that is compelling in and of itself, rather than simply ladelling on lots of game-changing twists. As for the ending, though the writer heatedly disagreed with Polanski’s decision to change his happy-ish ending into something bleaker, it remains an affecting full-stop.

As the resident femme fatale, Dunaway impressively makes it impossible for us to know her intentions and as our familiar ‘rich man’, John Huston (the director of some true noir classics) is perfectly cast. Make no mistake, though, this is Nicholson’s movie, Big Jack glittering before stardom.

Colour it may be, but Polanski’s Seventies thriller encapsulates Forties noir in all it’s hard-boiled glory.

Reviewed on: 14 Mar 2010
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A PI stumbles into a water conspiracy.
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Director: Roman Polanski

Writer: Robert Towne, Roman Polanski

Starring: Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Huston, Perry Lopez, John Hillerman, Darrell Zwerling, Diane Ladd, Roy Jenson, Roman Polanski, Richard Bakalyan, Joe Mantell, Bruce Glover, Nandu Hinds, James O'Rear, James Hong

Year: 1974

Runtime: 131 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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