"THIS BUSINESS REQUIRES A CERTAIN AMOUNT OF FINESSE." said Jake to his associate, shaking off a pocket square before stuffing it back into his breast pocket. He, like most of the characters in Chinatown, attempts to exhibit a certain amount of finesse, failing more often than he succeeds.
Set in 1930s Los Angeles, the neo-noir film follows private investigator Jake Gittes as he uncovers a murder within a water fraud conspiracy. Played by Jack Nicholson, Jake sees himself as suave and capable, ultimately displaying subtle sleaze and a somewhat endearing naiveté. Sharing the screen is a Greta-Garbo-esque Faye Dunaway as the newly widowed Evelyn Cross Mulwray. She looks like the classic femme fatale though she is anything but. Daughter of the wealthy Noah Cross, Evelyn suppresses fear and distress behind a faltering nonchalance.
Styling is what initially drew me to Polanski's Chinatown, with its delectable swing-era-inspired fashion and decor. Having now finally seen the film, I find myself also a fan of its style beyond the styling; from the timeless acting to the immersive camerawork and rich use of symbols. It was particularly enjoyable spotting a quality manifest in different ways. That "certain amount of finesse" slithers through the film in the form of water, gesture, smoke and saxophone.
A noteworthy style insight for when you're not feeling too suave or sultry: qualities take on many forms. If you can't look like Faye Dunaway, maybe try her bedroom voice.
Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway in Chinatown, 1974. Directed by Roman Polanski.