Dirty Pretty Things

Dirty Pretty Things


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Immigrants, illegal or otherwise, have become entrenched in the slogan slippery pages of the popular press. Two years ago Paul Pawlikowski's excellent Last Resort explored another aspect of their desperate plight. Now the man who made Dangerous Liaisons and High Fidelity, with American stars, has returned to the roots of My Beautiful Laundrette and Sammy & Rosie Get Laid and rediscovers London's hidden underbelly.

Stephen Frears could have persuaded Denzel Washington and Nicole Kidman to play the Nigerian and Turkish leads, but decided instead on British-born Chiwetel Ejiofor and French flavour-of-the-moment Audrey Tautou. He made the right choices.

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Essentially, this is not an asylum seeker's cry for help, but a murder mystery of sorts, although the theme that runs through it is one of survival. Okwe (Ejiofor) is a doctor on the run from Lagos, who works two jobs and hardly ever sleeps. Senay (Tautou) is a hotel cleaner from Ankara, who fears the immigration police, because she is not supposed to have a job, nor make money from subletting her flat. She dreams of New York.

Between driving a mini cab and taking up his post as night porter at The Baltic Hotel in Bayswater, Okwe crashes on Senay's couch. "You don't have a position here," he is told. Without a passport, you become invisible. Having no position is like having no life and Okwe learns how to stay in the shadows. After discovering a human organ down a toilet in one of the hotel bedrooms, a chain of events is set in motion that will threaten both their lives.

The film works on many levels. Frears keeps the flam out of buoyant and tells the story with admirable restraint. Although political in one sense, this is a thriller. Okwe is an illegal, which means he is at everyone's mercy and cannot go to the police. For this reason, he is exploited by the hotel manager (Sergi Lopez) and the mini cab boss. His only true friend is a British Chinese hospital worker (Benedict Wong), who shares his love of chess. There is a strong feeling that under the surface of multiculturalism, London operates a black economy, except, in this case, with blood on its hands.

Ejiofor's performance is perfectly judged. Okwe is a man of conscience, while Senay is intimidated by insecurity, fearful that at any moment she might lose everything and be deported. Okwe won't compromise, except by remaining silent. Ejiofor conveys an inner strength with absolute conviction.

Tautou has a more difficult time of it. Senay's neurotic personality, prone to paranoia, won't allow her to settle. The character is well written by Steven Knight, avoiding stereotype. Whereas Okwe is watchful and calm, Senay is frantic and suspicious. Also, emotionally she's out to lunch. Tautou looks a little lost in this other person's body and only allows the spirit of Amelie to emerge briefly in one scene.

As the devious, manipulative charm school graduate, Lopez is a force to the reckoned with. His comic style suits the theatrics of hotel management, like the Devil in a mask.

Reviewed on: 10 Dec 2002
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Illegal immigrants in London become caught up in an organ replacement racket.
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Read more Dirty Pretty Things reviews:

Jennie Kermode ***1/2

Director: Stephen Frears

Writer: Steven Knight

Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Audrey Tautou, Sergi Lopez, Sophie Okonedo, Benedict Wong, Zlatko Buric

Year: 2002

Runtime: 107 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


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