When the lights go down at the Cinemark Theatre and the opening credits for “Chinatown” start rolling–the eerie strings playing behind the nostalgic sepia background–some modern cinema lovers may start to feel a bit dismayed about the two-hour film they’ve committed themselves to watch.  However, apprehension is sure to fade quickly as the audience is swept up into a riveting tale of intrigue, betrayal and murder.

The 1970s filmmakers may not have included all of the bells and whistles associated with a modern thriller, but nor did they rely on silly startling moments or excessive displays of cleavage to keep audiences involved in their story like many modern thrillers do. Directed by Roman Polanski (“Speed,” “The Pianist”), the film’s artful cinematography and chilling musical score is reminiscent of the Noir-guru, Alfred Hitchcock.

The focus of the film is an ex-cop turned private detective, Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson), who, while investigating a case of suspected adultery on behalf of the hard-nosed Mrs. Mulwray (Faye Dunaway), finds himself tangled up in secrets and cover-ups. Gittes’ unnatural obsession with snooping soon gets him into some dangerous situations, including one especially memorable scene in which he gets his nose slashed by a nameless thug, played by Polansky in a short cameo performance. The audience follows the unapologetically cynical Gittes through a complex and dangerous maze of observations and interviews as he races against the authorities to uproot the truth while trying to avoid sullying his own name in the process.

Admittedly, the story, written by Robert Towne (“The Firm,” “Tequilla Sunrise”), is a bit slow to unravel, but Nicholson gives a first rate performance which carries the film across any weak points.  He manages to lend a subtle menacing quality to the character of Gittes–a small taste of that “Here’s Johnny!” attitude which he is known for.

One of the film’s greatest merits is its musical score, written by Jerry Goldsmith (“Alien,” “Poltergeist”). Music is used very sparingly in most scenes, and its absence has the tendency to build tension at crucial moments. This minimalistic approach can be quite thrilling, for the general lack of music makes the piercing strings quite startling during certain pivotal scenes.

The film will be playing at the Cinemark McCreless Market on New Braunfels St. on Sept. 13 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. as part of the Cinemark Classic Series. The movie contains some violence, foul language and nudity, and it may not be appropriate for young audiences. 

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