Following a trek to the bigscreen almost as convoluted as its plot, this oft-delayed sequel proves a jumbled, obtuse yet not entirely unsatisfying follow-up to Chinatown, rightly considered one of the best films of the 1970s. Like much of the film noir of the 1940s, Jakes simply spins a web of intrigue so thick its origins become imperceptible.
Picking up in 1948, 11 years after the events in Chinatown, Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) has become a prosperous and respected private investigator, though he still makes his living spying on an unfaithful wife (Meg Tilly) for her suspicious husband, Jake Berman (Harvey Keitel).
When the name of Katherine Mulwray turns up on an audiotape of the couple in bed together, it revives Gittes’ ghosts of events that occurred in Chinatown, linking sex, murder and deceit to the role of precious resources – Chinatown, water; here, oil – in a developing Southern California. The film then takes on a dual structure, with Gittes in the eye of the hurricane as holder of the incriminating tape while seeking to unravel its connection to Mulwray, the memorable product of the coupling of father and daughter in Roman Polanski’s earlier film.
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A few scenes do carry tremendous power, especially Gittes’ confrontation with detective Loach (David Keith) and, from a comic standpoint, his encounter with the murdered man’s not-so-grieving widow Lillian (Madeleine Stowe). Still, Nicholson the director (working from Robert Towne’s script) provides too few moments of that stripe for Nicholson the star.