*CHINATOWN (Roman Polanski, 1974) often gets hailed as a perfectly constructed movie, and like all such things it happened by accident. Robert Towne's script did find the essence of hard-boiled fiction, but its tragic, sublime ending was a product of last-minute brainstorming on the set. Faye Dunaway's climactic revelation stops just this side of soap opera. Jack Nicholson would never again look as exposed and vulnerable as he does here. And Polanski himself took the role of the knife-wielding "midget" against the advice of all involved.
Chinatown deserves and rewards multiple viewings. There's more going on in any one of this film's scenes than in the entirety of just about any of last year's commercial movies. Hollywood's 70s grandeur is largely a myth, but Chinatown does prove one thing. They don't make grown-up movies like this any more. Playing at the Royal with Nicholson's regrettable sequel, The Two Jakes. (January 9-10, Royal)