Pretty Things. Miramax
presents a film directed by Stephen Frears. Written by
Steve Knight. Running time: 107 minutes. Rated R (for
sexual content, disturbing images and language).
Ejofor, Audrey Tautou, Sergi Lopez, Sophie Okonedo, Benedict
Stephen Frears is a friend of both the independent and mainstream
movie-goer. Much like another contemporary director, Phillip
Noyce (Clear and Present Danger, Rabbit-Proof Fence),
Frears shifts effortlessly between mainstream Hollywood productions
like High Fidelity and more obscure independent films
like Liam. His latest feature, Dirty Pretty Things,
is an independent film, and one of Frears's better efforts.
By placing things such as character and story above action,
Frears has crafted a singularly compelling motion picture
- certainly one of the best yet of 2003.
modern-day London, and immigration laws have become much more
extreme after 9/11. Any immigrant without the proper papers
is hunted down, and just getting by is a full-time job. Okwe
(Chiwetel Ejofor) is a Nigerian doctor living illegally in
London. He just barely ekes out a living by working two jobs:
during the day, he drives a cab; at night, he is the desk
clerk at a local hotel. Okwe rarely sleeps, but when he does
so, he stays at the house of his friend, Senay (Audrey Tautou).
Senay is a legal Turkish immigrant, but under the terms of
immigration, she is not allowed to work for six months. Despite
the law, she works as a maid at the same hotel. During his
tenure, Okwe discovers that the hotel's owner, Sneaky (Sergi
Lopez), runs a black market organ trade. In exchange for a
kidney, he'll give a free passport to anyone crazy or determined
enough. He then sells the organ for a large sum of money.
When Okwe confronts Sneaky with this information, he is offered
a job. In exchange for performing the surgeries, Sneaky will
provide both Okwe and Senay with passports out of the country.
unashamedly presents Frears's politcal opinion. He displays
disdain for the current immigration process, lamenting the
reduction of humans into nothing more than their nationalities.
People are just people, he argues, not whatever country they
hail from. Thankfully, the politics of Dirty Pretty Things
never become overbearing. Instead of preaching, Frears occupies
the London in the movie with people of all different colors.
In fact, there is not a single major character that is white.
being billed as a thriller, Dirty Pretty Things is
more of a romantic drama. Both Okwe and Senay obviously feel
for one another, despite never truly acting on their emotions.
And, while the denouement may be too dark for the typical
movie-goer, it plays out exactly as it should.
Chiwetel Ejofor and Audrey Tautou are exemplary in their respective
roles. Ejofor brilliantly understates his performance as the
world-weary Okwe. On the few examples where he lets his emotions
out, we feel as if he is just purging his body of all the
pent-up emotion. As Senay, Tautou effectively drops the pixie-ish
nature of her Amelie performance, without losing any
of her charm. Despite being French, her accent is fantastic;
if I didn't know better, I would have sworn she really was
Turkish. The two major supporting players, Sophie Okonedo
and Benedict Wong are equally excellent.
with any director, Frears has had his missteps - albeit very
few. Dirty Pretty Things is not one of them. For people
expecting a happy ending (like a kiss under the moonlight),
or those who don't want any sort of political message with
their entertainment, Dirty Pretty Things would not
be a good choice. But for everyone else, even those who disagree
with Frears's politics, this is an enlightening and oddly
uplifting motion picture - it's not perfect, but in the crap
pile of flashy, vapid movies that has defined 2003's summer,
Dirty Pretty Things is a bright beacon of hope.
2003 Matt Noller