I wanted to watch these movies back to back to try and get a feel for how they work together. The box art tells us: “Much has changed since we last saw Jake.” No truer words were ever spoken. Jack Nicholson is now a household name and a fixture at the Lakers games. Many a classic character has worn Jack’s sardonic smile since Chinatown. Perhaps it was the timing that was bad. Nicholson decided to resurrect Jake Gittes as his first role following his awesome turn as The Joker in Tim Burton’s Batman. Perhaps it was the absence of Roman Polanski. Or maybe the time for Chinatown had come and gone.
Whatever it was, these films do not compliment each other as much as I hoped. There are elements of The Two Jakes that are superior to Chinatown. The cast is better, and that’s saying something there. Eli Wallach, Harvey Keitel, and yes, even Meg Tilly were all outstanding in their roles. I was most impressed with Tilly, who seems to have done far too many bimbo roles in her career. Whoever’s choice it was for her to almost whisper her lines was a genius. Tilly’s voice is one of those that I just can’t stand. That almost nasal high-pitched slutty sound can’t be taken too seriously. I suspect it has kept her from many far better roles than she’s seen in the last 20 years. Too bad, really, because apparently she can act. Nicholson’s more straightforward shooting style gave this film a better pace and a touch more action, so it did not feel as slow as Chinatown.
However, Nicholson never did capture the pure atmosphere that Polanski gave us. Nicholson attempted to return to some of the original locations, but as he admits, a lot has changed. The script might be tighter, but it doesn’t have that final wow that Chinatown did. The Two Jakes simply ends. I understand that as an expected trilogy the story was intended to continue, but this movie gets too caught up in being a part of something else whether coming or been that it fails to identify itself for its own sake. Nicholson has some serious chops as a director, but he’d have been better served trying to carve out his own style. Imitation might be the best form of flattery, but bad imitation , as Warren Zevon used to say “ain’t that pretty at all”.
It’s been almost 10 years, and Gittes is now part of a better social circle. He’s still in the same job with the same associates, but his ethics have earned him a bit of a reputation. As Jake says, “In the town of lepers I’m the one with the most fingers.” When Gittes is once again involved in a extramarital affair case, the clues lead him back to his own past… to Chinatown. This time it’s oil, not water, that drives the greedy men and once again Gittes is right smack in the middle of things.
The Two Jakes is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The Two Jakes does not benefit so much from the soft color palette as here it looks more washed out than stylish. For a more modern film there is no improvement in the print quality or the presentation. The real trouble is an overall dark film becomes entirely too washed out in the exterior scenes. Flesh tones are too white in these instances. It is in black levels that the film is at its best, but there’s not near enough advantage taken this go round. All of this makes this image appear inferior to the one made 15 years earlier.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is a pretty big improvement. While not aggressive, the film sports a very sweeping sound field all of the way through. Van Dyke Park’s score is nowhere as near good as Jerry Goldsmith’s, so music is not as dynamic as in Chinatown.
Dialog comes through better in this film. Clarity is likely a tad higher. Don’t expect much from the lower end, however. The climatic explosion is a huge disappointment.
Jack On Jakes: This was obviously done at the same time as the Chinatown feature. Jack Nicholson is pretty candid, as he often is about almost every aspect of the film. He admits his temper tantrums and his disappointment with how the film was received.
There is also the Theatrical Trailer.
It’s ironic that infidelity leads to most of the problems in these films. I think Nicholson wanted so much to impart his own vision here that he forgot to remain faithful to the original. Certainly he was faithful to Gittes because, after all, who knows Jake better than Jack. But somewhere along the way something went just a little awry. “I don’t care whose fault it is, his hers or the milkman’s.”