Great hardboiled detective film. Not for kids.
Parents recommend
  • Review Date: October 19, 2005
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 1974
  • Running Time: 131 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

While the main character is theoretically on the side of good, he too breaks rules to attain what he desires. The majority of the characters are liars, thugs, or otherwise criminals.


Includes off-screen drowning, a graphic on-screen murder, gunplay, a graphic cutting, slapping of a woman, and some extended fistfights.


Two sexually suggestive photos, a suggestive joke, a couple in bed together (after off-screen sex), implication of incest, very minor female nudity (in profile).


Some strong profanity.

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

A bit of social drinking .

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this film 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.).

What's the story?

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 CHINATOWN 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.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about whether a grey area exists between right and wrong (the violent police, the crooked government, and the antihero detective). Did Evelyn Mulwray's abusive relationship with her father excuse her actions at the end of the film? How does Jake break his cardinal rule in his dealings with Evelyn, and how does that comment on his character? 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.?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:January 1, 1974
DVD release date:November 23, 1999
Cast:Faye Dunaway, Jack Nicholson, John Huston
Director:Roman Polanski
Studio:Paramount Pictures
Run time:131 minutes
MPAA rating:R
MPAA explanation:adult language, brief nudity, and violence.

This review of Chinatown was written by

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Kid, 9 years old May 30, 2009

Contains Jack Nicholson + Roman Polanski.

Good movie. 14 year olds can watch it alone.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Adult Written byrob522 September 13, 2015
Teen, 16 years old Written by3rdPersonPerspective May 24, 2015

A masterpiece with mature content

From an artistic standpoint, this movie is incredible. The screenplay is remarkable; the acting too, including fantastic deliveries from Hollywood legend Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway. Nevertheless, the material, while not too inappropriate, is certainly for mature audiences: brief breast nudity, one f-word, and two scenes of disturbing violence.


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