The Two Jakes (1990) was the sequel to the 1974 hit film Chinatown, and is the last film to date to be directed by Jack Nicholson. Nicholson also starred, reprising his role as private eye Jake Gittes, and Chinatown writer Robert Towne and producer Robert Evans were also involved in the project, although Roman Polanski, unable to set foot on United States soil, was unable to take part in the project.

The movie is set in Los Angeles, 15 years or so after the events of Chinatown. The year is 1948, and Jake Gittes, moved to a newer, bigger office, is still in the extra-marital affair investigation business, has a fiancée of his own and a country club membership and a golf handicap under 10. He is still clearly haunted by the events in Chinatown.

The other Jake in the film is played by Harvey Keitel, who has hired Gittes as he suspects his wife is having an affair. When confronted with the evidence his wife is sleeping with his business partner, he shoots his partner, and the audio tape of the events that Gittes has recorded suddenly becomes a piece of 'most wanted' evidence. Gittes gets beset by rival forces, and drags himself further into the depths when the name Katherine Mulwray emerges.

The Two Jakes has a similar spiraling structure as Chinatown, leading us to the ogres of greed, corruption and the quest for further power by powerful people. Although there is no Noah Cross (John Huston having passed away in 1987), many members of the Chinatown cast reprise their roles. The period detail of the production is well done, reinforcing and recalling many of the scenes from the original film.

However like The Godfather, Part III released the same year, The Two Jakes was a (probably unnecessary) sequel that did a big belly-flop in front of a 1990s audience whose memory of the original work had faded away. The pivotal moments in the Two Jakes require the viewer to have a knowledge of the events of Chinatown, and so any viewer unfamiliar with the preceding work will be at a large disadvantage when trying to make sense of the plot twists and various ironies. To be fair, the film does try to address this, using a voiceover narration, some flashbacks and a uncredited contribution from Faye Dunaway, and Nicholson's direction is generally assured and shows off a few deft moves with the camera.

Nicholson delivers a good performance, essaying his typical world-weariness, and works well with the more restrained Keitel. Meg Tilly tries hard with her role as Keitel's wife, brings an essential stillness to her performance, as well as a Dunawayesque blonde hairdo. Meanwhile Madeleine Stowe is hysterically one-note and over the top as a dipsomaniac greiving widow.

As a companion piece to Chinatown, the film is interesting enough, giving a satisfying epilogue to the tale. Thematically it does not do a lot differently from Chinatown, and has rather less to say, apart from the observation that the past can be a hard thing to escape from. However the fact that the film is so influenced by events from Chinatown it leaves the so-called main plot in The Two Jakes feeling inconsequential and serves only to further confuse the casual viewer. So if you loved Chinatown, then you may be interested in this. If you haven't seen Chinatown then you must view that first. And if you didn't like Chinatown, I'm in no position to help you.


Jack Nicholson - Jake Gittes
Harvey Keitel - Jake Berman
Meg Tilly - Kitty Berman
Madeleine Stowe - Lillian Bodine
Eli Wallach - Cotton Weinberger
Rubén Blades - Mickey Nice
Frederic Forrest - Chuck Newty
David Keith - Det. Loach
Richard Farnsworth - Earl Rawley
Perry Lopez - Lieutenant Lou Escobar
Joe Mantell - Lawrence Walsh
James Hong - Kahn
Jeff Morris - Ralph Tilton
Rebecca Broussard - Gladys