Sunday, July 18, 2004

Movie Review: Dirty Pretty Things

United Kingdom, 2002
U.S. Release Date: 8/1/03 (limited)
Running Time: 1:37
Rated: R (Profanity, drug use, mature themes, sexual situations)
Cast: Chiwetel Ejofor, Audrey Tautou, Sergi Lopez, Sophie Okonedo, Benedict Wong

Director: Stephen Frears
Producers: Robert Jones, Tracey Seaward
Screenplay: Steve Knight
Music: Nathan Larson
Studio: Miramax Films

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WARNING: This review contains minor plot spoilers. Do not continue reading if you would like to be surprised at every aspect of the film.

“The hotel business is about strangers, and strangers will always surprise you. They come to hotels in the night to do dirty things, and in the morning it’s our job to make things look pretty again.”

People do dirty things in hotel rooms—not only dirty in a sexual context, but also dirty in an immoral and disgusting way. Some have sex with prostitutes, while others perform painful surgeries on illegal immigrants. These dirty deeds may seem dissolute in their own right, but can these filthy actions be justified when something helpful, or in this case “pretty,” results?

Dirty Pretty Things is set in London, not only a city where they steer from the right side of a vehicle and drive on the left side of the road, but also one of the many cities where the populace of illegal immigrants is posing a problem. This picture takes a look at immigration through the illegal immigrants’ point-of-view; being viewed from their standpoint, it is easy to feel sympathetic towards their unlawful action. The sacrifices that they make in order to remain in hiding and to stay out of the hands of immigration services are superbly depicted here in a dark, grey, and gritty fashion—for they are just trying to make it in this world like everyone else. The intense struggling and degradation that the characters go through make this picture the Requiem for a Dream of immigration (not drugs).

At first, Okwe (Chiwetel Ejofor) appears to be a hard-working inhabitant of London. But, it is later revealed that this black Brit, who has been working full time (x 2), as a taxi driver by day and a front desk worker at the Baltic Hotel by night, is not a citizen of England after all. This man, who doesn’t sleep more than a few winks a night, is much more than a concierge and an employee with public transportation; it turns out, Okwe is actually a skilled doctor/surgeon who has emigrated from Africa in fear of his own safety. While in London, he lives literally with both eyes open— fearful to be found by the powers that be.

Okwe is being taken care of by Senay (Audrey Tautou), a Turkish Muslim immigrant who is also being kept under a close watch—for she has not yet been granted her citizenship. Despite the small sparks between Okwe and Senay, they share a main objective: to avoid the authorities and to gain their own independence. Together they are in a fight for freedom, but just how far are they willing to go to get that freedom?

Dirty Pretty Things’ storyline unfolds ever-so-slightly to the viewer. As time passes, you know the players, but you can’t put together the big picture until all of the pieces of the puzzle are delicately revealed to you—causing a tremendous buildup of suspense. Not only is this Miramax BBC Films collaboration a high-tension thriller, but it is also a dramatic picture with an extremely talented and multi-cultural cast.

Chiwetel Ejofor, an actor whom I think looks a little too much like Andre 3000 and who can also be seen in the British romantic comedy Love Actually, shows off his acting ability here by playing a vehemently strained character. He plays this red-eyed, sleep-deprived role with intensity making it reminiscent of Al Pacino’s character in Insomnia.

Audrey Tautou makes her English-speaking debut, and even with her thick French accent she shows off her immense versatility as a bilingual actress who can fit any role. Here, she takes a step away from her usual cute, angelic roles seen in Amelie and Happenstance and plays an atypical damsel in distress. – This is by far the most unattractive Tautou has been in any film, and truthfully she looks more stunning on the film’s poster/cover art than she does at any point during the picture’s 97-minute running-time. This pretty-faced cover with Audrey all fixed-up and topless, yet hidden, was an ingenious marketing strategy showing off Tautou’s sex appeal opposed to the original faint-brown grimy-looking cover featuring Tautou and Ejofor with looks of disdain on their faces. – To add, Sophie Okonedo, Sergi Lopez, and Benedict Wong all have outstanding performances in this picture.

In addition to a noteworthy cast, there are numerous scenes, quotes, and situations that stand out. Senay’s religious ties make for a splendid sequence with the other white meat; the religion run-through with the sewing up of the dead man’s pockets is quite profound; and the “good at chess, bad at life” analogy is a tasteful excerpt from the solid screenplay. Also, the climatic quote, “We are the people you don’t see,” provides for a powerful burst of sentiment as all of the singled out characters band together.

Dirty Pretty Things is not your run-of-the-mill suspense thriller. With its well-written screenplay and its solid lead performances, it ensures that you leave with something. Fortunately, this movie doesn’t crap-out after a commanding hour-and-a-half of emotion with a cheesy Hollywood ending. Its conclusion is actually realistic and believable, which makes the overall film all-the-more bittersweet. Dirty Pretty Things is not only a picture that has the potential to stir up new notions on immigration, but it also has the muscle to sock you in the stomach. (***1/2 out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2004