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USA 1990
Directed by
Jack Nicholson
137 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

The Two Jakes

Jack Nicholson’s follow-up to Roman Polanski’s 1974 neo-noir classic, Chinatown, lacks the edgy feel and style of the earlier film, due in part to the slower pace, meant no doubt to reflect the fact that Jake Gittes is now an older, more comfortably-situated individual, something embodied by Nicholson’s paunchy frame, but it’s due also to Robert Towne’s convoluted script which relies heavily on and in some respect re-shuffles, plot elements from its predecessor, which he wrote, but suffers from a lack of purpose, particularly when it comes to the character's inter-relationships.

The film opens in traditional noir style with a Chandleresque voice-over delivered in suitably world-weary tones by Nicholson, in which he sets us up for the messy story to come, This involves Jake Berman (Harvey Keitel), a property developer who thinks his wife (Meg Tilly) is having an affair. Gittes schools Berman on how to act when he will burst in on the couple in flagrante delicto (why he would do this is not entirely clear) but when the time comes Berman shoots the guy dead. It turns out that the latter was Berman’s business partner and that Berman and his wife stand to make a lot of money from his partner’s share of the business. So was Jake set up to make cold-blooded murder look like a crime of passion?

That’s the basic (and familiar) situation but Towne, who at one stage was going to direct the film, heaps layer and layer of complications into it, tying it back to the events of Chinatown and, crucially, Jake’s still acute feeling of responsibility for the death of Evelyn Mulwray and his concern for her daughter. Once again Towne weaves a web of deceit, venality and questionable intentions, but this time the result is a bit of a meander that sometimes, as in the case of Madeleine Stowe as the dead man’s wife and Frederic Forrest as a lawyer, ends up losing sight of some of its characters or as in the case of Richard Farnsworth's crooked tycoon, not even giving us a good look at them.

Nicholson does a solid job both in front of and behind the camera, the latter commanded by Vilmos Zsigmond who gives the film a hi-gloss look to match the top drawer production values. The result  however is that The Two Jakes looks like any of an innumerable number of Hollywood period films.  If only it hadn't been so complicated in plotting and focussed more on the main players it might have had greater emotional punch.




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