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This came out in 1974, the year before I was born. I wanted to see it for a long time, considering it a modern classic, despite not really knowing anything specific about it. I finally saw it in 2017, and I hate to say I was somewhat disappointed. I mean, it's okay... but I think I would have given it a lower rating if I didn't already think of it as a classic. And because it is... I feel like my disappointment is a personal failing. Like it's my fault I didn't end up liking it more than I do. And maybe it is my fault, I dunno.
Anyway, it's set in the 1930s. There's a private investigator named Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson), who is hired by a woman named Evelyn Mulwray to find out if her husband, Hollis, is having an affair. Well, it seems that he is, and somehow the whole matter ends up in the newspapers. Hollis is the chief engineer of the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power, and he's opposed to the proposed building of a dam and reservoir, to provide L.A. with water during a drought. (Opposed because of a previous reservoir that resulted in hundreds of deaths; this one would have the same design flaw, and he doesn't want to make the same mistake twice.) It then turns out that the woman who hired Jake wasn't the real Evelyn Mulwray. The real one (played by Faye Dunaway) brings a lawsuit against him. Soon after that, she agrees to drop the suit. Then her husband turns up dead.
Well, Jake continues to investigate all of this, and uncovers a conspiracy. I don't want to spoil any details, but I'm afraid it was of minor interest to me, anyway. Also... there's a famous line from the end of the movie, "Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown." That's something I was waiting for, and it kind of disappointed me, mainly because of how unimportant Chinatown was to the plot of the movie. I guess Jake used to be a cop, and he used to work in Chinatown with a partner named Lou Escobar, who has made lieutenant since they last saw each other. Escobar is now investigating all of this, himself. And the climax of the film is in Chinatown, but I would say more than 99% of the movie has nothing to do with that district, and so... I have no fucking clue what the line actually means. Maybe it means that what happened isn't important, but that really makes zero sense. By any metric.
Sigh. But despite all that, I did think Jake was a good character. And he was funny, occasionally. And... I'm actually glad the movie is generally regarded more highly than I regarded it. I did like it, and I suspect I would have liked it less if I hadn't been trying to like it. And that would have been a damn shame. It deserves to be liked more than I liked it, but it deserves to be liked a lot more than I might have liked it if I hadn't been trying. So, you know... there's that.
Oh, also there's a scene where Jake is slapping Evelyn and she's saying "My sister/my daughter" repeatedly. I don't want to spoil the context, but I will say it's something I had no idea was in this movie, but I'm fairly sure I've seen that line parodied somewhere.