Tuesday, April 7, 2009
Great Last Scenes: Chinatown
Director: Roman Polanski
Great Because...: It absolutely does not cop out at the end. The movie is brutal from beginning to end, putting its characters through the wringer and not letting up on them for a moment. The only character who gets anything even remotely resembling a happy ending is the villain - and he still ends up with a bullet in him before the credits roll.
After unravelling a complicated real estate scam and the dark family history connected to it, J.J. Gittes is this close to getting the woman he loves safely out of town - only to have all the other players in the game show up to spoil it. First it's the police, who arrest him for interfering with their investigation, and then it's Noah Cross, a man as evil as he is rich, who wants to lay claim to his daughter, Evelyn, and granddaughter (who is also his daughter). Shots are fired, first by Evelyn at Noah and then by the police at a fleeing Evelyn.
Helpless, J.J. watches as it all falls apart. Evelyn lies slumped over in the car, head against the horn so that it wails through the otherwise quiet street. Noah absconds with the granddaughter Evelyn tried so hard to protect, who screams in protest but is dragged away nonetheless. In light of what's just happened, the police set J.J. free but warn him to get while the getting is good. As his associates lead him away, J.J. turns back to look at a scene which reminds him of a moment from his past, one which is never elaborated on but has obviously had a deep impact on him. It's one of J.J.'s associates who gets the last word and one of the best last lines of all time: "Forget it Jake. It's Chinatown."