A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Chinatown focuses on corruption within the government. The film presents many instances of mild violence (fistfights, gunplay, murdered bodies, etc.) and a more disturbingly violent onscreen killing of a major character. Parents should note that characters with whom viewers place emotional investment meet extremely unfortunate demises. The film also includes some sexually suggestive materials (post-coitus conversation, dirty jokes, implications of incest, etc.).
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
In CHINATOWN, ex-cop Jack Giddes (Jack Nicholson), carries on a lucrative detective business -- at least until a woman seeks information about her philandering husband. In his attempt to prove the husband's affair, Jack finds himself entangled in a deadly game with the Los Angeles police department, the local government, and a beautiful femme fatale (Faye Dunaway). Someone is siphoning water from the local supply, much to the dismay of the local farmers. Ultimately, Jack must uncover the trail of corruption and deceit to save his own hide (and nose).
Is it any good?
Roman Polanski's film is a visually lavish trip back into the hardboiled detective genre. The gorgeous costumes and harsh lighting help to capture the seediness lurking behind legitimate society in 1930s Los Angeles. The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences recognized the film with Oscar nominations in major performance, design, and technical categories. Robert Towne (Shampoo, Mission: Impossible) ultimately brought home the Academy Award for his original screenplay. (The writing process had been a contentious one, as Towne had originally planned for a happy ending.) The film was intended to be the first of a trilogy, about the water company, gas company, and a freeway project respectively. Ultimately, only one sequel (The Two Jakes) found its way into production; Nicholson would go on to direct and star in that film.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about whether a grey area exists between right and wrong (the violent police, the crooked government, and the antihero detective). How does Jake break his cardinal rule in his dealings with Evelyn, and how does that comment on his character?
Did Evelyn Mulray's abusive relationship with her father excuse her actions at the end of the film?
This film also lends itself to discussions about cinematic style (excellent harshly shadowed lighting) and issues of genre. How does the type of storytelling present in this film compare to current trends in television detective shows such as Law and Order and C.S.I.?
- In theaters: January 1, 1974
- On DVD or streaming: November 23, 1999
- Cast: Faye Dunaway, Jack Nicholson, John Huston
- Director: Roman Polanski
- Studio: Paramount Pictures
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 131 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: adult language, brief nudity, and violence.
- Last updated: September 21, 2019
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