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A private detective, Jake Gittes, hired to investigate an adultery case, stumbles on the plot of a murder involving incest and the privatization of water through state and municipal corruption, land use and real estate. If he doesn't drop the case at once he faces threats of legal action, but he pursues it anyway, slowly uncovering a vast conspiracy.
As private investigator Jake Gittes, hired to dig up some dirt on Hollis Mulwray, chief engineer of Los Angeles's water department, Nicholson saunters round the city delivering one-liners with offhand brilliance.
A new private-eye melodrama that celebrates not only a time and a place (Los Angeles) but also a kind of criminality that to us jaded souls today appears to be nothing worse than an eccentric form of legitimate private enterprise.
In 1974 a director, a screenwriter, and a producer (Robert Evans, who for once deserves a few of the plaudits he's apportioned himself) could decide to beat a genre senseless and then dump it in the wilds of Greek tragedy.