Dirty Pretty Things (2003)

Director Stephen Frears (Dangerous Liaisons, The Grifters) has shown an unflinching eye at the fringe elements of society. In the new thriller Dirty Pretty Things the focus is on the struggling lives of illegal immigrants in over their heads.

The London that Frears displays is the sordid underbelly, the type that hasn’’t seen the light in ages. These people are treated like they’re disposable. Those with whatever menial amount of power, even if it’s a single step higher, prey on these immigrants. “”How come I haven’’t seen you before?”” one character asks another. “”Because we are the people who are not seen,”” he replies.

The heart of the film (you’ll get the pun soon) follows the lives of two immigrants. Okwe (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is from Nigeria and works days as a cab driver and nights as a front desk clerk at a hotel. Senay (Amelie’’s Audrey Tatou) is a Turkish housekeeper at the same sleazy hotel trying to stay one step ahead of immigration police. Okwe is instructed to ignore all the salient comings and goings of the hotel. “People come to us to do dirty things,” says the creepy hotel manager Mr. Sneaky (yes, that is his name). “It’s our job to make things pretty the next morning.” Things get more complicated when Okwe discovers a human heart clogging a room toilet. It seems that for some who check into the hotel, they don’t check out. Okwe and Senay become entangled in a bloody scheme that threatens their lives and their immigration status.

Dirty Pretty Things is never boring, sometimes compelling, and more thrilling than you would believe with a plot concerning immigration. The characters earn our attention and emotions with Senay’’s vulnerability to Okwe’’s tenderness and resolute integrity. They draw us in and we genuinely care what happens as they are snared into the creepy clutches of Mr. Sneaky.

It’’s here that I feel obliged to mention that Steven Knight, the writer of Dirty Pretty Things, is the co-creator of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?. Just consider the possibilities of future game show creators-turn-thriller screenwriters: Merv Griffin’’s hard hitting thriller on the lives of firemen, anyone? It could have the corny tagline, “”There’’s only one rule of firefighting –– never fall in love.”” Maybe this only fascinates me.

Frears’’ direction is rock solid. He plays to the best aspects of thrillers, like a suffocating feeling of paranoia but doesn’’t suffer the thriller flaws because of such resonant and buoyant characters. Frears is confidant to not overcompensate with his storytelling and lets the grimy locations create his stark mood for him. You can almost taste the stale air.

The acting is exceptional. Ejiofor is amazing. He gives a stellar performance rich in complexity, anxiety, uncertainty, and just plain goodness. He seems to be the last honest man in all of London. There are several scenes you can feel the debate of emotions raging inside him. Tatou, in her first English language role, gives a strong performance, though I’’m curious as to where her “Turkish” accent went. With her penetrating dark eyes and elfin smirk, Tatou is still one of the most adorable actresses on either side of the pond.

Dirty Pretty Things is a searing look at the faceless underprivileged seeking a new life, and those who would deviously prey upon them. The film is a smart, superbly directed, and wonderfully acted thriller. It’’s a thriller without weird kids who see ghosts, or lesbians with ice picks, but Dirty Pretty Things is a film that’ll stay with you long after the lights go up in the theater.

Nate’s Grade: A

About natezoebl

One man. Many movies. I am a cinephile (which spell-check suggests should really be "epinephine"). I was told that a passion for movies was in his blood since I was conceived at a movie convention. While scientifically questionable, I do remember a childhood where I would wake up Saturday mornings, bounce on my parents' bed, and watch Siskel and Ebert's syndicated TV show. That doesn't seem normal. At age 17, I began writing movie reviews and have been unable to stop ever since. I was the co-founder and chief editor at PictureShowPundits.com (2007-2014) and now write freelance. I have over 1400 written film reviews to my name and counting. I am also a proud member of the Central Ohio Film Critics Association (COFCA) since 2012. In my (dwindling) free time, I like to write uncontrollably. I wrote a theatrical genre mash-up adaptation titled "Our Town... Attacked by Zombies" that was staged at my alma mater, Capital University in the fall of 2010 with minimal causalities and zero lawsuits. I have also written or co-written sixteen screenplays and pilots, with one of those scripts reviewed on industry blog Script Shadow. Thanks to the positive exposure, I am now also dipping my toes into the very industry I've been obsessed over since I was yea-high to whatever people are yea-high to in comparisons.

Posted on September 18, 2003, in 2003 Movies and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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