Study Guide

Chinatown Criminality

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The criminals in this movie aren't like the criminals on Cops, who routinely get caught when trying to ineptly climb a fence.

Criminality in Chinatown takes the form of the ultimate white-collar crime—stealing an entire city's water supply. These criminals are wearing suits and sitting behind desks, and their corruption is bland but insidious.

Their leader, Noah Cross, isn't motivated by the struggle to survive, but by a deep need for power and control. His crimes help him further his domination of the L.A. area, giving him the leverage he needs to determine the city's future. In the end, this makes him a more ferocious and wily villain than your typical thief.

Questions About Criminality

  1. Do you think Noah was born with a criminal's mindset, or do you think power corrupted him—or is it a combination of both? Explain.
  2. Do Noah's motives for committing crimes differ from those of someone like Claude Mulvihill or Ida Sessions?
  3. What made it hard for Jake to fight crime when he was working in Chinatown? How does he find that situation similar to his struggle with Cross?
  4. Why can't the cops understand that Noah's a criminal when Jake tries to tell them at the end?

Chew on This

Criminals commit crimes in order to satisfy their desires and appetites—get money, food, a cool car, or attract the opposite sex. Even a bad guy like Noah Cross and the people who work for him are ultimately driven by these simple material concerns.

Criminals commit crimes in order to satisfy the feeling of power, more than to satisfy their appetites. Why else would someone like Noah Cross, who already has millions of dollars, risk so much in committing these crimes?

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