The Two Jakes: Special Collector’s Edition
December 18, 2007
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Harvey Keitel, Meg Tilly, Madeleine Stowe, Eli Wallach, Ruben Blades, Frederic Forrest, David Keith, Richard Farnsworth, Perry Lopez, Joe Mantell, Tracey Walter, James Hong,
Making a sequel to a classic film like Chinatown (1974) was never going to be easy. How do you equal or surpass the original? Robert Towne, who wrote the first film, penned the next installment. However, the film’s original director, Roman Polanski, had been exiled from the United States since the late 1970s and unavailable to reprise his role behind the camera. Towne had aspirations to direct his own screenplay and the film’s producer, the legendary Robert Evans, not only returned but also wanted to star in the film (opposite Jack Nicholson as the other “Jake”). Inevitably, egos clashed and when all the dust had settled, Evans was out and Nicholson used his clout from the phenomenonal success of Batman (1989) to direct The Two Jakes (1990) himself.
J.J. Gittes is hired by Jake Berman (Keitel) to find out if his wife, Kitty (Tilly) is cheating on him. Berman sits in on the surveillance and decides to confront his wife and the man she’s with; only he shoots and kills him. The other man turns out to be Berman’s partner, Bodine. Together, they had a very lucrative business building subdivisions for Los Angeles’ population boom. Gittes returns to his office only to find a very angry Mrs. Bodine (Stowe) tearing up the place. Gittes smells a rat. With Bodine dead, Berman looks to receive his partner’s half of their very profitable business. Did he deliberately murder Bodine?
Madeleine Stowe is the film’s glaring weak link, miscast as the crazy femme fatale. She’s no Faye Dunaway that’s for sure as she simply doesn’t have the chops to pull off such a challenging role. She isn’t convincing enough. It doesn’t help that the Nicholson persona was in full effect while he was doing this film and it is really hard to see him as the character and not the movie star, which may explain its lackluster critical and commercial reaction.
Towne constructs another typically Byzantine plot that one has to pay very close attention to in order to follow all of the twists and to keep track of all of the characters. There are some of his trademark zingers, like when Gittes speaks about his profession, “In this town, I’m the leper with the most fingers.” Or, another character describes Gittes as “a prisoner of the past.” A very apt comment considering how much he is still haunted by the events depicted in Chinatown. Towne continues to mine the themes of betrayal and corruption that he introduced in the first film. While Chinatown revolved around the value of water, The Two Jakes’ most valuable commodity is oil with a semi-intelligible wire recording in Gittes’ possession as the key. He once again finds himself surrounded by dangerous characters that cannot be trusted and ensnared in a mystery.
Nicholson’s direction is fine – nothing special but not awful either. He wisely surrounds himself with veterans like master cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond who gives the film a warm look. He makes everyone look glamourous and all of the settings look beautiful. While The Two Jakes is no Chinatown, it is a decent film in its own right.
“Jack on Gittes” features Nicholson candidly admitting that he has yet to direct a commercially successful film. He says that after Easy Rider (1969), he wanted to direct more films but he ended up acting more and more. Nicholson says that Towne originally envisioned a trilogy of Gittes films, hence the “unresolved rhythm” of the ending of The Two Jakes. The veteran actor briefly touches upon the film’s checkered production past and the scripting problems he faced while making it, although, he curiously omits the last minute firing of long-time friend Robert Evans. Nicholson talks about the cast, working with Zsigmond, the challenges of making a period picture and the difficulty of acting and directing.
Also included is a theatrical trailer.