An interesting look at Polanski's masterpiece, reading the director's own demons into it. Interesting, at least, aside from the tiresome "pox on both your houses" cop-out.
There is more that can be said here, though. I recently had the opportunity to watch Chinatown, and it is a masterpiece, no doubt. Nevertheless, what O'Hehir hints at but never comes out and admits is that the movie's message, like that of Polanski's "self-imposed exile" and like the maddening neither-left-nor-right ducking of reporters and editors, is rooted in moral cowardice. The central theme of the movie is the futility of good intentions, this is true, and the message telegraphed to the audience at the end is that Gittes' first mistake was even bothering to try to help someone in need. Evil always prevails and the good guys always lose, so you might as well just get yours and get out. It's an emotionally charged philosophy rooted in fear and despair, one just as delusional as the much maligned "starry-eyed optimism," but without its courage or productiveness. As a philosophy, however, it does hold one great advantage: it's wonderfully convenient for justifying all manner of selfishness and criminality, as well as the evasion of the consequences of said depravity.
That, I think, is the most interesting parallel between Polanski's life and work.