The Two Jakes - 1990
Director(s): Jack Nicholson
Writer(s): Robert Towne
Cinematography by: Vilmos Zsigmond
Editor(s): Anne Goursaud
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Harvey Keitel, Meg Tilly, Madeleine Stowe, Eli Wallach and Rubén Blades
Last year it seemed like it was the year of the actor turned director (Cooper, Dano, Hill, and Burnham). So I wanted to go back and explored works of actors turned directors, and I landed on the great Jack Nicholson and his last outing as a director, The Two Jacks, the sequel to one of his greatest films, Chinatown reprising his role private investigator Jake Gittles. I was a bit tentative to watch a sequel to one of my favorite movies of all time, but Nicholson delivered a worthy companion, and one that builds in the groundwork laid sixteen-years prior.
The story picks up right in the middle of a routine investigation for Jake Gittes (Nicholson). Jake is hired by Jake Berman (Keitel) to follow his wife as he suspects she is cheating on him and wants to catch her and record her in the act to have an advantage during their divorce. Gittles’ world is turned upside down when Berman kills the man sleeping with his wife. As Gittles investigates the circumstances surrounding Berman’s motivations, things aren’t as clear as they may seem. Robert Towne also returned to pen the script, and he captures the same noir spirit of the original. While it takes a bit for the mystery to get going, once Jake is knee deep in the twists and turns, the runtime flies by with the tension and the suspense gradually building to a satisfying climax. It does have some clunky dialogue when it comes to the sexual tension between the widow of the slain man and Jake, but it is a minor element of the story.
While it is not completely necessary to watch Chinatown to understand the events of this film, you benefit from having the knowledge of past events as they play into the plot of Two Jakes. I especially enjoyed the arc of Jake as a character, as the years, the tragic events of Chinatown and his years of war haunt him. Nicholson plays him as a tired smooth talker with hint boredom, as the years have jaded him. Jake is always on top of everything, despite not having all the pieces of the puzzle quite yet. And his voiceover does a lot of the heavy lifting in setting the tone and helping the audience keep track of all the moving pieces. Another aspect that I enjoyed from Towne’s script is how he avoided presenting the situation as black and white. The actions of the character while on paper are deemed “evil,” the motivations aren’t, working in a moral grey area that asks the audience to judge for themselves.
Nicholson behind the camera is fantastic and utilized his blocking to its fullest potential. From the opening scene of the binoculars to the shoes on the desk covering the monotone outrage of Keitel, Nicholson used any opportunity to use creative visual ways to showcase the world to the audience. Every scene has a purpose and pushes the story forward, with little to no fat in the runtime. While it never hits the same greatness as its predecessor, it does make for a fun back to back viewing.
The Two Jakes ultimately boils down to love, as both Jakes are motivated and pushed to their limits by the women they love and what they are willing to do for them. Nicholson does a fantastic job setting visually interesting scenes to go along with a captivating script by Towne. The story is fun, and the mystery is engaging, with enough twist and turns to keep the audience guessing. Any fan of Chinatown will be happy to see Jake again, and it is an excellent sequel to one of the greatest noir films of all time. Jack Nicholson is why I love movies.
The Two Jakes is Glass Half Full.
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