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Both Robert Towne's screenplay and Roman Polanski's film have become legend, but beyond the technical mastery evident in both, it's hard to see what all the fuss is about. Jack Nicholson stars as Jake Gittes, a high-priced private eye in desert-like, drought-stricken 1930s Los Angeles. After falling victim to a con-job, Gittes investigates the shady workings of the L.A. water commission, uncovering a municipal conspiracy of Byzantine proportions, a couple of murders, and some other sordid details he never expected. Despite a keen knack for character and plotting, Towne never pushes Gittes beyond an aloof, clumsy wise-ass, failing to create either a compelling or empathetic hero — or anti-hero, for that matter. Moreover, Polanski's eponymous metaphor is undeveloped and falls fatally flat. And yet, in technical terms, Chinatown deserves its many accolades. John A. Alonzo's cinematography is superb, and Polanski knows how to wring tension out of the most innocuous scenes. It's just too bad he can't make us care. Presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, with a Dolby Digital 5.1 re-mix or the original 2.0 mono soundtrack. Includes a retrospective documentary that features interviews with Polanski, Towne, and producer Robert Evans.
—Gregory P. Dorr

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