Quote 4

Noah Cross:   “You see, Mr. Gittes, most people never have to face the fact that at the right time and right place, they’re capable of anything.”

This is the explanation Noah Cross gives Jake during their final confrontation at the Mulwray mansion. This line suggests there is evil in everyone’s heart and that given the right provocation, anyone is capable of committing a heinous crime. But on a deeper level, Cross doesn’t mean what he says in the slightest. The calm and even tone of Cross’s voice suggests that he sees his actions as reasonable and understandable indulgences—an even more sinister facet of his character.

Cross’s words are applicable to many of the conflicted characters in the film. Russ Yelburton, a family man with a good job, is driven to cover up the murder of a man he genuinely liked in the name of greater ambition. Though Ida Sessions swore she didn’t know Hollis Mulwray would end up dead, she certainly knew an innocent man would be ruined. Nonetheless, she helped with the scheme for her own financial gain. Evelyn keeps Katherine a virtual prisoner in the name of protecting her, and Jake himself abuses an innocent woman. Lieutenant Escobar, who seems to have as great a dislike for Chinatown as Jake does, helps carry the area’s rules beyond its borders by not attempting to question Cross.