The Two Jakes
For a film maker taking on a sequel is an iffy proposition at best. For every sequel that matches or exceeds the original, such as ‘The Godfather Part Two’ or Aliens, there are a couple of dozen ‘Jaws 2’. After both critical and box office success with ‘Chinatown’ it was only natural that a follow up flick was planned. Actually, there were originally plans to make this a trilogy featuring the character of Jake Gites. Each was to be in a successive decade and cover a different aspect of corruption in the building of the Californian infrastructure. Unlike the original film ‘The Two Jakes’ went on to mixed reviews and less than stellar returns at the box office. On paper it was a good bet for the studio. With Jack Nicholson taking on the dual duties of leading man and director and a supporting cast that included such excellent actors as Harvey Keitel, Eli Wallach and Madeleine Stowe the film certainly looked great on paper. This may just be a case of the expectations exceeding the realization. This is a strong film with an interesting plot, the continuation of excellent characters and straight-forward direction. It only really fails when juxtaposed next to ‘Chinatown’. The film has its problems, that are very evident, but it is worth a watch if for no other reason that to follow Jake on one more case.
The film opens in 1948, some eleven years after the close of ‘Chinatown’. Jake Gites (Jack Nicholson) has moved up from his little two room office to more elaborate and expensive surroundings. He has his own building and a crack team of investigators under him. Jake Gites is a success with a fiancée and country club membership. Jake Berman (Harvey Keitel) comes to Jake to hire him. He is suspicious that his wife, Kitty (Meg Tilly) has been unfaithful to him. Gites and his client set of a little trap for the wayward wife. Gites tutors Berman on what to do when he enters the room and confronts his wife in the midst of infidelity. When the time comes Berman doesn’t follow the plan. Instead of just confronting the man he pulls out a gun and shoots him dead. The man with his wife just happens to be Berman’s business partner, Mark Bodine (John Hackett). Of course the police are called in and Lt. Loach (David Keith) is given the case. He is an oily sort of fellow with dubious motives of his own. Things get sticky when Gites is told by the grieving widow, Lillian Bodine (Madeleine Stowe) that Berman always intended to murder her husband. The set up was a ruse to provide some degree of justification to the act. If this was true then Gites was guilty of being an accessory before the fact. The motivation for the murder was as old as time, greed. Berman and Bodine had a huge business deal on the horizon. They were going to turn over some property that contained oil and make a fortune. According to Lillian Bodine and his wife was not the kind who liked to share.Gites investigates deeper if for no other reason than to protect his own freedom. He is also being pressured by Lillian’s attorney, Chuck Newty (Frederic Forrest) who tells Gites that he either proves Bodine planed to murder her husband or they will sue him into bankruptcy. The fact that Lillian stands to inherit a fortune is just a nice little consequence. During his digging one name comes up on a wire recording that upsets Gites, Katherine Mulwray, the daughter of Evelyn Cross Mulwray (Faye Dunaway’s character in Chinatown). Others are after the recording, a slick criminal, Mickey Nice (Rubén Blades) and his muscle for hire, Liberty Levine (Paul A. DiCocco Jr.). The leads of the investigation take Gites to a new player in the complex plot, oil mogul, Earl Rawley (Richard Farnsworth). The potential for oil on the property during an oil boom in California would make anyone extremely wealthy and be more than enough motive for deception and murder. It turns out that Rawley is paying the exorbitant fees of the shady lawyer Newty. He may also be behind one of Berman’s employees, Tyrone Otley (Tracey Walter) slipping clues to Gites. With so many suspects and lies around Gites is drawn into a complicated web with is own hide at stake.
True to the film noir genre this is a dark and moody film. The cinematography by Vilmos Zsigmond is nothing less than a work of fine art. This is the man who gave a distinctive look to such films as ‘The Dear Hunter’, ‘Close Encounters’ and ‘The Witches of Eastwick’. Here Zsigmond re-creates the look and feel of Los Angels in the late forties. There is a grit to the scenes that is captivating. The gray areas of the law and morality are perfectly reflected in the use of shadows. The camera seems to lurk just out of sight giving a voyeuristic vantage point to the audience. This is a film that requires your undivided attention. The plot is convoluted, a maze of characters and motivations that takes more than the normal amount of attention. ‘The Two Jakes’ is the little brother who is constantly trying to out do his older sibling. It makes a valiant effort but some aspects of the film fail to gel. While Nicholson is one of the best actors ever to grace the screen his work as a director was not up to the almost impossible standard set by Roman Polanski. Nicholson has a linear style that doesn’t quite capture the convolution of the story.
The saving factor for this film is the acting. While Nicholson had some problems with his direction they certainly did not extend to his performance here. He plays Gites as an extension of his own life. He is older, a bit of additional weight has been added and he is now more of a success than ever. His voice over narration is right out of a classic Raymond Chandler flick. Being older and hopefully wiser this Gites has to rely more than ever on this wits than action. Harvey Keitel is one of those actors that don’t dome immediately to mind but never fails to deliver. He has such incredible control over his performance that you can forget that he is playing a part. Madeleine Stowe) is just perfect as the femme fatale in this flick. She is sultry, sexy and dangerous to be around. Meg Tilly is somewhat of a light weight here but does well.
This is just one more installment of Paramount Pictures ‘special collectors’ series. True to the name this is a special DVD to own. The anamorphic 1.85:1 video is fantastic. The colors are true to the original without any trace of artifacts. The audio is presented in both Dolby Stereo Surround and Dolby 5.1 mixes. The two channel track did give more of a period feel to the film. There is only one extra provided, unusual for this series but it is more than worth it. There is an interview with Jack Nicholson about his two roles in the film. This is released on the same day as the collection’s edition of Chinatown and together they make a great double feature.